With schools closed and offices still allowing employees to work-from-home, ride-sharing drivers and companies have experienced a major slump in incomes
Abdul Hakim, a 45-year-old man from Mymensingh who drives a ride-sharing car using the Uber mobile application, has been sitting idly at the Gulshan 2 intersection for nearly an hour. About 40 minutes back he did get a booking for a ride from a location in Gulshan 1, but before he could arrive at the location the passenger cancelled the trip.
"Before the shutdown, I would get about a couple of ride calls even before I completed one ride. Now, waiting an hour between rides is the bare minimum," said Hakim, who has been driving ride-sharing cars for two years now.
After an all-out ban on ride-sharing vehicles during the lockdown, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority allowed ride-sharing four-wheelers back on the street on June 21. But things have been slow.
"I would usually make around Tk50,000 a month from the rides, now it has come down to Tk30,000," said Hakim.
"The schools and colleges are still closed. People rarely go to hospital nowadays," said Hakim explaining why the number of passengers has come down.
Not only are the schools closed, but many offices are still allowing a large portion of their employees to work-from-home and hence ridesharing drivers are having a hard time finding passengers.
"Before the outbreak, I could earn on an average Tk60,000 every month, but nowadays, it is tough for me to earn even Tk25,000," said Nahiduzzaman Nasir, another ride-sharing driver, who hails from Rajbari.
"People are now in constant fear of contracting the coronavirus, as a result, they try to avoid ride-sharing services," said Nasir.
Nasir had to go back to his hometown during the shutdown as he had no income. Nowadays, he also worries about his own health.
"I do not know whether my passenger is a coronavirus patient or not. There is no way to know the health condition of my passenger," said Nasir, who has two sons and lives in the Mohammadpur area.
On March 26, the government closed all educational institutions, business establishments and transportation services to prevent the spread of the virus.
Around two months later, on June 1, the government allowed public transports, including buses and launches, to resume services on condition of following strict health safety guidelines. But that decision did not include ride-sharing services.
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) kept the operations of the ride-sharing services suspended till June 21.
After meeting with the BRTA officials on several occasions, on June 21, ride-sharing service providers got approvals for movements of cars, microbus and ambulances using their mobile apps, on a limited scale. The authorities also made it mandatory for drivers to get enlistment certificates which require the payment of an annual fee.
"This has created a significant financial burden for drivers, who have already been out of a steady income for months due to the Covid-19 pandemic," said Sayeda Nabila Mahabub, director (Marketing and Public Relations) at Pathao.
"Of course, there is a significant difference from 2019 to 2020. The company's revenue was significantly impacted due to the pandemic. But the numbers are changing drastically and we are hoping to reach the previous numbers very soon," she added.
Before the Covid-19 outbreak, BRTA allowed ride-sharing companies to let any person who has a vehicle with a valid licence to use their mobile application. But in the middle of the pandemic, the road transport regulatory authority is only allowing vehicles which have both licence and registration for ride-sharing services.
"We regret to note that BRTA has failed to approve any enlistment applications since September 1. We have several hundred applications currently awaiting BRTA approval," said Nabila.
"The BRTA ridesharing portal has been down due to a technical failure since September 5. As a result, Pathao and other ridesharing companies have not been able to submit any enlistment applications during this time," she added.
According to BRTA officials, there are some 123,000 vehicles registered with different ride-sharing companies in the country. Of them, 104,000 are motorcycles while the rest are cars, microbuses and ambulances.
The government allowed ride-sharing service providers to run motorcycles in the city from Friday midnight (September 4). The Business Standard reached out to representatives of Uber, Obhai and Shohoz on their reaction to falling earnings of drivers which impacts their revenue earning as well.
"Earlier, we resumed our UberX, Premier, Intercity services in the country. Last week we received BRTA approval to resume our popular Moto services," said Uber Bangladesh's spokesperson.
As the cities start to open, we remain committed to providing safe and convenient transport to move Bangladesh forward, the spokesperson added.
Like other ride-sharing service providers, OBHAI has also become fully operational after receiving approval to run motorcycles.
"We were hit hard by the pandemic. The company's income significantly dropped. However, with the restrictions being lifted countrywide, passengers have started using ride-sharing vehicles to reach their destination," said Syed Md Fakruddin, spokesperson of OBHAI.
Shohoz, another ride-sharing company, does ride-sharing using motorcycles only.
Adnan Khan, head of transportation of Shohoz, told The Business Standard that they started running 140 motorcycles from Friday midnight. The number of users is increasing day by day, he said.