Project progress to be discussed at Thursday meeting
No remarkable progress has been made in the launch of the bus franchise system in Dhaka over the last six years, despite high expectations that the system would solve the capital’s traffic problems.
After numerous delays to the project proper, including a redesign, a pilot run was supposed to begin on April 1. However, the deadline was missed once again.
The Bus Route Rationalization Committee (BRRC) has said it expects the pilot run to be imminent, as the groundwork has almost been completed.
“Piloting of the bus route rationalization was delayed by Covid-19, as the pandemic hampered the groundwork. Upon completing all the preparations, we can immediately start the trail run between Ghatarchar and Kanchpur,” said Atiqul Islam, mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and co-convener of the BRRC.
“A meeting has been called [on Thursday], where we will discuss all the progress,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Sources at the BRRC also said many bus owners were yet to agree on the new routes and were opposed to starting the trial run.
The BRRC has finalized 42 routes in 9 clusters in Dhaka. Buses under 22 companies are to operate on the routes under the franchise system.
The pilot Ghatarchar- Kanchpur (Dhaka-Chittagong Highway) route is 15.5km long.
What preparations are required?
Before piloting the new system, the most important issue that needs to be addressed is the joint venture agreement between bus owners who will operate on the pilot route.
Additionally, the bus owners have demanded bank loans of Tk3 lakh with 4.5% interest for the renovation of buses.
Again, the construction of sheds and signs at selected bus stops needs to be completed.
Furthermore, operating guidelines or manuals, driver and helper appointment policies, and a dress code all need to be finalized.
“We have sought around Tk3 lakh loan at 4.5% interest to modernize each vehicle on the pilot route, but the Bangladesh Bank is yet to complete the process. Therefore, the joint venture agreement has not been signed,” said Khandaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of the Dhaka Road Transport Owners Association.
“The authorities concerned selected the bus stops, but they are yet to construct sheds for passengers,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
However, DNCC mayor Atiqul Islam said: “Bangladesh Bank has already approved the loan with 4.5% interest rate as per bus owners’ demand. Bus owners now can apply for the loan to renovate their buses for the pilot route.”
Why the impasse with bus owners?
The BRRC has found that a couple of dozen bus operators work on the Ghatarchar- Kanchpur route. Among the operators, only three operate buses.
Dozens of operators run minibuses between Ghatarchar and Gulistan, Kanchpur and Gulistan, or other parts of the pilot route. These short-distance bus operators neither want to suspend their operations, nor do they wish to fit into the pilot of the franchise system.
BRRC sources said committee members and bus owner association leaders had held several meetings with bus operators on the pilot route to discuss bus route rationalization.
“Once a single company operates buses between Ghatarchar-Kanchpur under the franchise system, the company will hike fares as the quality of service will be better. If the local bus continues on the same route and charges lower than the franchise bus, it will create chaos,” said Khandaker Enayet Ullah.
The bus franchise plan was taken up in 2015 to bring discipline to the public transport system. It was the brainchild of the late Annisul Huq, former DNCC mayor.
The implementation of the project has been delayed because of many reasons, including the impasse with bus owners.
“The franchise system is expected to be a welcome departure from the haphazard system that is currently in place. But launching a better system is not easy because indiscipline on the roads has been discussed since the 1990s,” said Prof Md Hadiuzzaman, director at the Accident Research Institute of Buet.