There are allegations that some buses overcharged passengers in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country
Public transports returned to normal services and fares on Tuesday even though Covid-19 infections and fatalities are still high in the country and experts fear the situation might worsen if health guidelines are not followed.
On the first day, most buses in the capital followed the government's health guidelines by not carrying passengers beyond their seating capacity. Long-haul buses also maintained the rules.
But there were some sporadic incidents of public transports overcharging fares in the capital and elsewhere in the country.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said on Tuesday that legal action would be taken against those who did not comply with the government's guidelines amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
He said there is the rule that buses have to display the list of government-approved fares.
"I request the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and the bus owners' association to implement this rule," the minister said at a virtual meeting with officials of the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA).
"While travelling by public transport, it is compulsory for all passengers to wear masks. Buses cannot carry standing passengers, and adequate soap, water or hand sanitisers should be kept in all buses," he further added.
Khandaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners' Association, told The Business Standard that they had asked bus owners, drivers, and conductors to follow health guidelines.
"I hope they will maintain it. Otherwise, we will not take responsibility for them," he added.
Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury, secretary general of Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, said they were observing the situation.
"We want buses to operate in line with health guidelines and official fares. This way they can prevent the spread of coronavirus, and also scuffles between bus staff and passengers," he said.
Experts fear spread of virus
Vice-Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Professor Kanak Kanti Barua told The Business Standard that both infection and death rates are fluctuating. "The situation may get worse if health guidelines are not followed properly."
Professor Nazrul Islam, noted virologist and former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said every sector had already opened although there is still a huge risk of spread of the virus.
"Buses have now restored full-scale operations. The situation will go out of control if people do not wear masks, maintain social distancing, and follow health guidelines while travelling by bus."
Meanwhile, 35 more deaths from the virus were reported in the last 24 hours till 8am Tuesday.
The death toll now stands at 4,316, said a press release issued by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
In the last 24 hours,1,950 people tested positive for Covid-19, taking the total number of cases to 314,946.
Scuffles over fare continue
Kamal Uddin, a passenger, said, "The normal fare from Farmgate to Gulistan is Tk15 but the conductor of Shikor Paribahan bus charged Tk20."
Sifat, a businessman, got into a quarrel with the conductor of a Bikalpa Paribahan bus over the fare.
"The fare from Azimpur to Mirpur 1 was Tk15 before the pandemic. It increased to Tk25 till Monday. Now they are charging Tk20, which is still more than the regular fare. I refused to give the extra amount and the conductor misbehaved with me," he said.
Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity's Secretary General Mozammel Hoque said they had received many complaints that buses were overcharging fares.
"Passengers beat-up a conductor near Shah Amanat Bridge in Chattogram because he overcharged fares. We have also received similar complaints from Nilphamari and other districts," he added.
Public transports remained closed from March 26 to May 31 as part of the government's efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Bus services resumed on June 1 on condition that they operated at half the passenger capacity and followed health safety protocols.
At that time, the government increased bus fares by 60 percent.
On August 29, the government decided to restore previous fares from September 1. They have also set some conditions for buses to resume services.
The conditions are that no vehicle will be allowed to carry passengers beyond its seating capacity; all passengers and bus staff have to wear masks; transportation companies must provide hand sanitisers and other hand washing material; and buses have to be disinfected before and after each trip.