Staff Correspondent: The authorities have agreed to increase the fares charged by the operators of diesel-run buses by about 27 percent starting from today amid a transport strike that created nationwide chaos.
City buses will now charge Tk 2.15 per kilometre, a 26.47 percent increase from the old price of Tk 1.70. The fare for long-haul buses has increased from Tk 1.42 per kilometre to Tk 1.80, a 26.76 percent jump. The minimum fare has been set at Tk 10 for buses, and Tk 8 for minibuses.
The fares for CNG-operated buses will remain unchanged. “CNG-run buses cannot increase the fares by even a single paisa,” said Nur Mohammad Mazumder, chairman of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority or BRTA.
The BRTA set the new rates in a meeting to readjust the fares on Sunday following a 23 percent hike in diesel prices. It will now send the rates to the road transport and bridges ministry that will publish a gazette on the new fares.
The new rates are expected to end the strike by transport owners and workers. Khandokar Enayet Ullah, an influential transport owners’ leader, urged the owners and workers to call off the strike after the meeting.
Transport owners demanded a 40 percent hike in bus fares at the meeting with the BRTA amid the indefinite strike that started nationwide on Friday.
The government increased the prices of diesel and kerosene by Tk 15 to Tk 80 per litre on Wednesday, citing a volatile global oil market. Transport owners and workers then called the strike in response, demanding either a rise in fares or a reversal of the hike in diesel prices.
Intra-city buses, long-haul buses and freight vehicles suspended services during the strike. Launches also stopped operating on Saturday.
The situation has caused great difficulties for ordinary people. The strike triggered fears of an increase in prices of commodities transported by diesel-run vehicles, besides the sufferings of travellers.
After the bus fares were raised in the meeting, the Bangladesh Truck, Covered Van and Tanker Lorry Prime Movers Owners and Workers Coordinating Council decided to continue their transport strike to demand a reversal of the diesel price hike.
According to the set of proposals sent to the BRTA by the Transport Owners Association, the price of city buses in the Dhaka and Chattogram metropolitan areas and for long-haul bus routes has not increased in the past eight years.
But, in that intervening time, the cost of vehicle chassis, tyres, tubes, spare parts, and all sorts of taxes and fees have increased. They claim that, for these reasons, the cost of running vehicles has increased ‘significantly’.
In 2015, the government set the price per kilometre travelled at Tk 1.70 for city buses and Tk 1.60 for minibuses. They also set the minimum price for a bus journey at Tk 7 for city buses and Tk 5 for minibuses.
In 2016, the fare for long-haul diesel-fuelled buses and minibuses was set at Tk 1.42 per kilometre.
But the buses running in Dhaka charge no less than Tk 10 for a trip on any route, no matter the distance, despite the government order setting the minimum fare for any distance at Tk 7.
That means for many trips the minimum fare set by the government is often double what it would be for that distance. Even then, buses on all routes charge an additional Tk 3 on top of the minimum price. Despite numerous objections and protests from passengers, Tk 10 has somehow become the de-facto minimum price.
These objections over excess bus charges came to the fore in light of the strike. Transport owners have brought the country to a standstill.
Transport owners’ leader Enayet Ullah acknowledges that excess fares are charged on ‘some routes’ in the cities. Regular action is taken against such irregularities, he claimed.
Road Transport Minister ObaidulQuader had previously said that the government would ensure that any hike in transport fares would be ‘reasonable’.
“The government did not wish to raise prices, but announced the new price of diesel and kerosene due to a hike in global prices and to prevent fuel smuggling into neighbouring countries,” he said. “The public interest is always an important issue to our prime minister [Sheikh Hasina].”
THE ULTIMATE SUFFERERS
Commuters struggled on the first workday of the week due to the public transport strike. Many of them left home very early in the morning to make it to their offices on time, while many others were late.
As in the past two days, commuters were also charged a lot more for their trips. Though private cars, autorickshaws, rickshaws and motorbikes were crowding the Dhaka roads, passengers were seen waiting for public transport. Some BRTC double-decker buses were available on the roads but were overcrowded. Elderly passengers, women and children were among those who could not make it.
Many passengers changed their rides and took different vehicles to reach a destination. As some of them tried to walk, some tried to hitchhike on private cars.
Autorickshaws, rickshaws and ridesharing bikes became exorbitant. Many of the passengers travelled in rickshaw vans.
The absence of public transport took a heavy toll on tens of thousands of students and job-seekers. They struggled to get to the exam centres on time for the admission test of the seven Dhaka University-affiliated colleges and the recruitment tests of two dozen government institutions on weekly holidays Friday and Saturday.
The strike led to an increase in the number of passengers in trains, prompting the railway authorities to attach additional coaches to accommodate scores of embattled travellers at Kamalapur Railway Station.
Cars and microbuses offered some respite to people wishing to leave Dhaka for other districts — in exchange for double the bus fares. Those travelling to nearby districts hired autorickshaws.
But a number of people were stranded in Dhaka’s bus terminals amid the strike with no suitable place to stay or not enough money to hire a car after taking exams or treatment at hospitals in the capital.
The people always suffer no matter what happens, said Ghulam Rahman, president of the Consumer Association of Bangladesh.
“They can’t just halt transport services. They should have discussed and resolved the issue. Why are they holding us hostage?” a disgruntled passenger asked as the travellers looked for answers to their sufferings.
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