About 3 million people leave Dhaka by road to celebrate Eid in their home districts every year
People returning to their home districts for the upcoming Eid-ul-Azha holidays may face a more difficult journey than usual this year, as a significant number of buses are likely to be out of service.
Bus operators say about one third of the total number of buses are likely to be out of service as they lack proper documentation.
Bus owners have been scrambling to ensure their buses have fitness certificates and other related documents, following the recent student demonstrations for road safety and resulting crackdown on unfit vehicles.
About 3 million people leave Dhaka by road to celebrate Eid in their home districts every year, straining public transport during the holidays. According to passenger safety experts, buses make five times the number of trips they usually do during Eid, often resulting in an increased number of road accidents in the period.
How many buses will actually be in service?
Shyamoli Paribahan Managing Director and Bangladesh Bus Truck Owners’ Association Vice-President Ramesh Chandra Ghosh said: “We have 500 buses on 40 routes across Bangladesh. Usually, we can run 90% of the buses during Eid, but this time it may vary between 60%-70%.”
He added that the reason about 30% of the buses would not be running was because fitness certificates of the vehicles and the licenses of drivers were in the process of being renewed.
Ramesh further said that of the 1,200 drivers they employ to drive the 500 buses, about 900 would be on duty during Eid. Each of these drivers has between 10-12 years of professional driving experience.
Hanif Enterprise Chairman Md Kafil Uddin also said they would also be fielding between 20-30% fewer buses than usual during the holidays due to problems with documentation.
However, the impact was less likely to be felt with the company as they had acquired 300 new buses for Eid, he added.
The Bangladesh Road and Transport Corporation (BRTC) runs a small number of special bus services to adjoining districts during Eid to reduce the strain on other bus services, but the corporation is also in the process of updating documentation.
BRTC Chairman Farid Ahmed Bhuiyan said they have a total 930 buses in Bangladesh, including those for long routes.
“Some of our buses are not ready because of fitness related problems. We are in the process of updating the documents and expect to use all our buses to help people reach their destinations,” he added.
Eid, accidents, and drivers without licenses
When contacted, Bangladesh Passengers' Welfare Association (BPWA) Secretary General Mozammel Haque Chowdhury said people always face a transportation crisis during Eid, but this year it was likely to be worse.
“With the new Transport Bill as well as the crackdown on unfit vehicles and drivers without licenses, the number of buses will be low and the crisis could be huge,” he added.
The BPWA secretary general further said that bus companies may try to make more trips to make up for the lower number of buses, increasing chances of accidents.
According to data from the BPWA, 339 people were killed and 1,265 injured in 277 road accidents during the holiday for Eid-ul-Fitr this year, from June 11-23.
Meanwhile, data from the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) shows that 228,000 heavy vehicles are registered with the BRTA, including 45,537 buses. However, the authorities have only issued 138,000 driving licenses for driving heavy vehicles.
In order to get the license to drive a heavy vehicle, a driver needs a minimum of six years driving experience.
BRTA data also shows that 47% of all accidents in the 17 years ending on 2014 involved heavy vehicles. Of the 71,934 road accidents that took place between 1998 and 2014, a total 16,647 were bus accidents- the highest of all vehicles.
Due to the student protests for safer roads and with the crackdown on unfit vehicles ongoing, the BRTA has published public service announcements on various national dailies, urging people to renew licenses and documentation for vehicles.
Consequently, there has been a dramatic upsurge in the number of people filing for and renewing licenses and other documents.
On Monday, BRTA Assistant Director Ali Ahsan Milon told the Dhaka Tribune they normally issue 150-200 new driving licenses every day. “But since last Thursday, we have issued 270-280 licenses every day.”
He added that the number of people renewing licenses had also doubled in recent weeks. “We usually renew 80-100 driving licenses every day, but now the number is over 200. Also, we generally issue 750-800 fitness certificates daily, but now we are issuing 1,100-1,300.”