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Dhaka Tribune

Omama looks to break the curse on AC bus services in Dhaka

Update : 25 Sep 2017, 11:07 PM
Operating luxury air-conditioned (AC) commuter buses in Dhaka has been challenging for private operators for years due to three major reasons: lack of government support, excessive traffic congestion, and lack of skilled drivers. Some private operators launched AC bus services in Dhaka to provide a better commuting experience to the capital's increasing number of middle-class office-goers. Premium, Nirapad, and Roadstar were among the services on offer but none was able to sustain its business for more than three or four years and since 2010, there have been no privately-run AC bus services operating in the city. The only major AC bus operation still available in Dhaka is the state-run Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) service on the Motijheel-Uttara route, hardly meeting the demand for comfortable public transport in the city. The Dhaka North City Corporation runs an AC bus service, but only on the "Dhaka Chaka" route from Gulshan Shooting Club to Banani. Despite the past business failures, however, a new private transport operator is set to launch an AC bus service in the capital to meet the demand. After successfully trialling seven of its new Ashok Leyland buses on the Uttara-Motijheel-Farmgate route for three months, officials of Omama International Ltd hope that the new service will become fully operational in October. The long-term goal is to expand the Omama fleet size to 25 buses - matching the number of Chinese-made AC buses in the BRTC fleet.

Is Omama different than its predecessors?

Operators who once ran AC bus services in Dhaka claimed that luxury bus services could not be profitable as the vehicles were often stuck in chronic traffic gridlock for hours, raising the operational costs. On top of that, a lack of skilled drivers meant the expensive buses were involved in frequent accidents that added more to the costs of operation. Omama faces these challenges, too, but company officials hope to overcome them after receiving positive responses from commuters in the trial run. “An AC bus service is convenient, especially for those of us who go to Farmgate, Karwanbazar and Motijheel for work," Mainuddin Ahmed, a banker who recently used the service, told the Dhaka Tribune.  
Read More: Rapid Pass project shows sluggish progress
  Mainuddin, however, had reservations over the higher fares charged by Omama: its Tk70 fare for a single trip on the Uttara-Motijheel route is Tk10 more the BRTC buses plying the same route. "While Omama is comfortable, the business will have difficulty gaining a foothold in Dhaka if it charges a higher fare than BRTC," he commented. Omama Managing Director Delowar Hossain explained why his bus service charges higher. “The BRTC buses run between Uttara and Motijheel, but Omama starts from Diabari [third phase of Uttara] to Motijheel. For those additional few kilometres, we have fixed the fare at Tk70,” he said.

Rapid Pass compatible

Omama buses will be equipped to accept Rapid Pass, an integrated circuit-based smart card being launched by the government for cashless fare payments on all modes of public transport, including trains, metro rail and ferries. The Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA) has produced 60,000 Rapid Pass smart cards, which will initially be issued to BRTC and Omama AC bus services. “The Omama service will officially begin in full scale for the commuters when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launches the Rapid Pass card. At the moment, we are running the service on a trial basis only,” Delowar said. DTCA is hoping that the prime minister will inaugurate the new payment system by October. “We have already sent a proposal to the prime minister to inaugurate the Rapid Pass system. We have yet to get any confirmation from the PMO, but it is likely to become functional in a month,” said Syed Ahmed, executive director of DTCA. Both Omama and BRTC have already installed the Rapid Pass payment machines in their buses and are waiting for the launch of the new payment system.
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