While daily commute in Dhaka remains as dreadful as ever, Gazi Mainul Alam finds his mornings a lot less hectic these days; he no longer has to stand in queue in Uttara, where he lives, to buy a bus ticket to go to work in Motijheel.
“I had to waste a lot of my time at the ticket counters,” the bank official said.
Then he got himself a Rapid Pass – a smart card that he can use to pay his fare directly in the bus he takes – and now he does not have to worry about tickets.
“My Rapid Pass saves a lot of time in the morning,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Although launched as a pilot project on the Uttara-Motijheel route, Rapid Pass has quickly gained popularity among office-goers as a replacement of “cash-and-ticket” transactions.
The cards are currently available for state-run Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) and privately-run Omama bus services, used by nearly 1,000 passengers.
The Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA), who is in charge of the project, is ready to launch the fully fledged service, said DTCA Executive Director Syed Ahmed.
“We are all set to open the service for public use. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is going to officially inaugurate it soon,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
What is Rapid Pass?
Rapid Pass is a microchip card that can be used instead of traditional paper tickets. Unlike paper tickets, which is usually used only once per trip, a Rapid Pass can be used as many times as its balance allows.
One a subscriber runs out of balance, he or she can recharge it by paying a specific amount of money at designated recharging booths.
A number of countries have been using Rapid Pass. Japan launched it in 2005.
The DTCA undertook the project for Dhaka in 2014, with financial assistance from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (Jica), to provide the citizens with smart card by 2016.
Its deadline was later pushed back to June 2018 as the project progress was rather slow.
As a pilot project, a small number of cards were issued this year on the Uttara-Motijheel route only for BRTC and Omama bus services.
DTCA Executive Director Syed Ahmed said they were planning to issue 50,000 cards at the launch. “More will be issued as per the demand,” he added. “The service will be expanded in phases.”
He said the next bus service to get Rapid Pass would be Dhaka Chaka on Gulshan-Banani route.
How does it work?
A user has to register his or her name and mobile number to activate the card. The registration, which takes two working days to process, allows passengers to make a claim for a lost or damaged card.
Using the card is simple too.
Bus services that accept Rapid Pass have card readers installed. A user has to insert the card into the device when he or she gets on a bus, and again when he or she gets off.
The machine then calculates the travelled distance and deducts the appropriate fare from the card, and prints out a receipt mentioning the current balance for the user.
The data is sent to the clearing house and the fare payment is finalised there.
Rapid Pass can be bought and recharged at designated bus stoppages – BRTC counters at Uttara House Building, Banani, Shahbagh and Motijheel – as well as branches of the Dutch-Bangla Bank Ltd in Dhaka.
The card costs Tk400: Tk200 as security deposit and Tk200 as account balance. In order to recharge their cards, users can go to the Ticket Office Machine (TOM) booths at BRTC counters and the DBBL branches in Motijheel, Elephant Road, Banani, Uttara and Sonargaon Janapath.
A user can recharge the card with minimum Tk100 and maximum Tk2,000. A single recharge cannot exceed Tk1,000. The total balance cannot exceed Tk2,000.
'One card for all'
The benefits of Rapid Pass are wide-ranging, according to DTCA Executive Director Syed Ahmed.
“Rapid Passes will make daily commute easier for Dhaka residents as it will be available for use to get any mode of public transport – bus, train or ferry,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “That is why the slogan for the Rapid Pass project is: 'One Card for All'.”
However, the DTCA will initially provide the smart cards for bus services.
The best part of having a Rapid Pass is not having to stand in queue to get tickets for a transport service every day.
“Passengers who have this card need not worry about standing in queues to get bus tickets,” said Selim, a ticket seller at the BRTC ticket counter in Banani. “They don't need to carry the exact amount of change to pay for the tickets. It is safe and efficient, and saves a lot of time.”
It will be especially useful when the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) service, also known as Dhaka metro rail, as people will have a small window of time to catch the trains, said sources.
There are other benefits too.
Rapid Pass users can enjoy “negative value function” – even with insufficient balance, a card can be charged and the balance will be adjusted once it is recharged.
If a card gets lost, stolen or damaged, a user can replace it with a new card at the TOM booths and transfer the old card's balance to the new one by providing his or her registration information.
If a user wants to cancel his card, he or she can get a refund of the remaining balance by surrendering the card to a TOM booth.
Syed said Rapid Pass could be used for multiple purposes in the future.
In future, it will have features to allow shopping, payment of utility bills and even payment of student tuition fees.
“Eventually, people will be able to use this smart card for a number of purposes. These facilities will be available in the second phase of the project,” Ahmed added.