Commuting is an integral part of our daily lives irrespective of social stratifications. No matter which social class you are from, you have to come out of home and go to different places, be it workplace, educational institutions, hospitals etc., in need to maintain your lives. And the vehicle or transportation services are indispensable parts of commuting between places. Over the past many years, transport services in the country, especially in Dhaka, have been mired in whim and waywardness of private transport operators. Given the fact that perennial indiscipline, irregularities and mismanagement in the state owned transport company – BRTA – have virtually made it a toothless organisation, private transport companies always gain upper handover the government authorities concerned during the negotiations on fixing fare, enacting the laws, amending the existing laws or other related issues.
In recent times, people of the country suffered immensely due to the countrywide wildcard strike enforced by the transport workers for what they said demanding “justice” following two court verdicts that sentenced one driver to life and another to death over separate road accidents. We know commuting a sentence is a matter to be settled in the court as per the law of the land and none has right to take the law in their hand or to force someone to get justice in their favour. In the case in question, transport workers, allegedly at behest of influential labour leaders, took the commuters hostage, as they usually do, to realise their undue demand.
In the more recent incident, the association of owners and leaders of the passenger buses in the capital at its meeting with BRTA officials took collective decisions that no passenger bus would be allowed to operate in Dhaka city in the name of ‘Sitting Service’ or ‘Gate Lock’ as additional fares are being charged from passengers in the guise of such services. Moreover, they warned of stern action against anyone charging extra fares from passengers, urged the fare chart, as fixed by BRTA, to be hung at an easily visible place inside every bus, and planned for seats to set aside in every public bus for women and physically-challenged people. They also announced that BRTA magistrates would conduct drive to enforce the decision. Although the promises sound good in terms of passenger welfare, they, however, surprisingly reversed the decisions for unknown reasons within a week of its announcement and eventually the government was forced to put the issue on the backburner.
In reality, due to the abject lack of a robust governmental transportation system or other alternatives general public have always been in the lurch of frivolity of private bus operators. However, it seems the government has finally woken up to the shortcomings of its public transport system resources and decided to give the go-ahead to apps-based transport services. According to news reports, the government in sync with its plan to legalise different online-based transportation network companies in the country has prepared a draft guideline to allow commercial use of cars and motorbikes. The move came in the wake of public demand and request from a number of apps-based transportation companies for seeking nod from the authorities concerned to officially allow their operations.
Under the guideline, BRTA, the regulatory body of the transportation system, has planned to bring the service under the government monitoring by fixing the fare rates, limiting the number of vehicles to be plied under the system, keeping records of details of vehicles, vehicle owners and drivers. According to the draft, the aspiring apps-based service providers have to pay Tk 50,000 as upfront fee to get registered with the BRTC. It also offers that a motorcycle owner has to pay Tk 800 a year for each vehicle while a car owner has to pay the BRTA Tk 1,200. Apart from the charges, the service providers have to obtain permission from the ministry of ICT for the apps. To operate any app-based transport service, a fleet of at least 100 vehicles is set to be the minimum requirement.
It is pertinent to mention here that SAM (share a motorcycle)-the first e-hailing service in Bangladesh, and Uber - the US based taxi hailing service - held press conferences last year in May and November respectively about their services. They were served with notice by the BRTA referring to the services were illegal as per the vehicle regulations of the country. The companies then submitted separate proposals to the BRTA to legalise their services. The BRTA’s guideline is actually a response of it to the proposal and request from a number of apps-based vehicle service companies.
Transport experts, however, remain sceptical about the initiative. They opine that the step will meet public demand to some extent but, they fear, it will add to traffic congestions, accidents, especially by motorcycles, boost crimes and serve only the interest of business people. On the other hand, the non-traditional services are getting good response from the very people who requires it on daily basis. In any case, lack of sufficient public transport, chronic traffic congestion in Dhaka, and the perpetual monopoly and wilfulness of the traditional transport operators have made it inevitable for people to rely on the apps-based non-traditional services. And the government decision in this to allow the service is laudable and praiseworthy.
What the government can do more is to take measures for strict implementation of its guidelines. It should make certain the screening process, as the guidelines suggest, requiring scrutiny of NIC, driving license, car or bike registration is precisely followed by all concerned. The apps-based service provides should employ women drivers for commuting female passengers. It can arrange training on driving etiquette and manner as well as how to operate the app. And a mandatory attendance of the drivers at an anti-sexual harassment workshop designed by NGOs working on women right is the need of the hour for making the service safe and secure of the female commuters availing themselves of the service.
The writer is an Associate Engineer, Thakral Information Systems Pvt. Ltd. Email: [email protected]