In the last week of December 2020, I had to go to the office of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), Diabari for fitness certificate of my car. In this life-threatening corona pandemic, I was a little bit worried about going to Diabari, where thousands of people come with their vehicles every day for necessary services. However, it gave me some relief when I came to know that considering the corona situation, the authority had taken a very good decision of introducing online appointment to avoid usual mass gathering. Undoubtedly, that was a wise decision and deserves much appreciation.
In fact, BRTA has introduced this ‘online appointment’ system for renewal of fitness certificates of vehicles from October 2020. Using this option, appointment for fitness certificates can be fixed from three metro circles in Dhaka, such as Mirpur, Ekuria and Diabari. To use the system for an appointment, one has to first visit the BRTA web-site and register with name, date of birth, national identity card number and mobile number. After the registration, the appointment seeker has to follow the step-by-step instructions to ensure his/her appointment. There are four daily time slots available for appointments: 9 am to 11 am, 11 am to 1 pm, 2 pm to 4 pm and 4 pm to 5 pm. The customer can choose freely a slot from the available ones. Once all the required information is submitted, the recipient will be informed about the appointment schedule mentioning date, slot and serial number.I am not so much accustomed with the complex technology of internet networking system and for that reason I always avoid using internet-ways of communication if I have other option to avail the same benefits. Sometimes I try to test my ability of failure in using this technology, as I know that I could not be able to reach the target; rather I will do something wrong which might damage the path of usual running of my laptop. With this confusion in my mind, when I tried the BRTA web-site to book an appointment for the fitness certificate of my car, I succeeded in the second attempt. I got the appointment for 24 December 2020 in the first slot (from 9 to 11 am) with serial number one. It gave me immense pleasure having the feelings that I could have done something for the first time. Immediately, I made a printed copy of that appointment.
Before going to Diabari, I wanted to pay all necessary fees and taxes in a bank designated by BRTA. So, I had to send my driver to the bank with the same amount of money that I paid last year for my 1500cc car. After passing three-hour in the queue when he gave the money to the bank official in the counter, he was asked to give more Tk. 10,000. At that my driver came to know that the tax has been increased from Tk. 15,000 (last year) to Tk. 25,000. Under that circumstance, my driver had to go to the bank the next day with the required amount of money. In fact, the tax has been raised so high for all other vehicles also. We do not know the reason behind raising the tax so much. Even, the excess tax we pay in advance at the source is never adjusted by returning the access amount at the time of submission of the yearly income tax return to the NBR.
On 24 December morning, we left our residence for Diabari before 8 am so that we could reach there by 9 am being at serial number one. Though we reached Diabari BRTA office at 9 am, but we were shocked to see that there were already more than 300 vehicles in the line. When I asked those people about the serials and slots of the appointment, they told me that no serials or slots as per the appointments were maintained, rather the line of vehicles followed the system of ‘first come first serial and slot’ system. The serial and slot given by BRTA while making online appointment do not bear any sense practically. In that situation, I had nothing to do except instructing my driver to follow the long line.
I was waiting in the BRTA office for the officer concerned, as one employee of that office told me that officers normally come at around 10 am. When the officer in charge of the fitness of vehicles desk came, I talked to him and enquired about the funny appointment system particularly allotting the serial numbers and slots. I also discussed with him the difficulties we face while operating the online appointment system. He agreed with me and said that the users face difficulties for registration part. The appointment part is not so difficult. But one cannot use the second part unless he does the registration at the first step. The BRTA might reconsider the system to make it easier and practical, avoiding such troublesome work. In this context, I would also like to refer the unnecessary allotment of slot and time schedule that does not mean anything in practice. It is better to give the date only. Service seekers would find their own time to go there on the given appointment date. Hope, the concerned authority would look into this and do necessary corrections, either to follow slot and serial, or delete that from the system keeping only the date to make the ‘online appointment’ system more justified.
In this connection, I would like to raise other few issues. I visit Diabari BRTA office every year for my car since 2015. The office is in a rented small building without any structures to organise necessary test facilities, whether it is a test for driving licence or fitness certificate of a vehicle. All these are done in the open field in front of the building. On the other hand, more than 500 vehicles come every day either for fitness certificate or other matters making at least a-kilometre long line occupying the adjacent narrow streets that also create traffic problems for other vehicles running there. This scenario is not just for one or two days, but for the whole year. I do not know how the neighbourhood is taking this unwanted crowded environment.
As far as we know, no BRTA offices in the country has any modern technology facilities for all these tests and checks-up, except its office at Mirpur that has Vehicle Inspection Centre (VIC) to check some elements digitally and some 100 commercial vehicles (mainly buses and trucks) are tested there every day. Other vehicles are checked manually, which could compromise safety as it leaves room for manipulation and irregularities. Unless and until automated system is installed at all BRTA offices, we cannot expect the exact performance report on a vehicle's key safety features like headlights, brakes, speed capabilities, etc.I also understood from my discussion with the officer in charge of fitness of vehicles that they have been suffering from acute shortage of professional manpower, particularly the motor vehicle inspectors/assistants and the requisite technology that could enable them to issue driving licences and vehicle fitness clearances correctly and timely. The handful of inspectors, presently working in various BRTA offices, are under heavy pressure and ultimately the quality of inspections is compromised. As a result, the main purpose of having a safe-road always remains at risk. Nevertheless, the shortage of inspectors/mechanical assistants causes service seekers to wait a long time on the street.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary