Against this backdrop, when a student-led youth movement occupied the streets of Dhaka last August, bus transport workers and their leaders, agreed in principle to meet the demand for safer roads
In the year since public transport leaders decided to stop trip-based operations they have not done so. Trip based compensation for bus transport workers has been widely seen as the reason for reckless driving and accidents, which continues.
In a trip-based compensation system bus drivers and their helpers, make more money with more roundtrips on their routes . Hence, reckless driving to squeeze in more trips to make more money, often in unfit vehicles,leading to the high number of road accidents in the country.
Against this backdrop, when a student-led youth movement occupied the streets of Dhaka last August, bus transport workers and their leaders, agreed in principle to meet the demand for safer roads.
On March 20, the Dhaka Road Transport Owners-Workers Unity Council announced four important decisions to prevent road accidents. They included introducing contractual bus stops in Dhaka, preventing unlicensed drivers from taking the wheel, keeping unfit vehicles off the road, and not letting a drug abuser drive.
Compensating for traffic jams
However, the problem of the trip-based system was not addressed. Neither bus owners nor transport workers are amenable to an idea which affects their income.
Abdul Sattar has been driving a bus for the past seven years. Currently he operates on the Mirpur to Motijheel route. His days start at 6am with taking office workers to work, and ends at 11pm.
Sattar has to meet a daily target of around Tk12,000-15000, but slow, Dhaka morning rush hour traffic, cuts into the number of trips he can make and his income.
In the afternoon he drives recklessly, hoping to make up for the lost time.
Also Read- Unfit for the road
He said: “For the last three years, our income has not risen. We have to meet our daily target. Whatever is left after the owner takes his due, is our earnings.”
Sattar explained his situation thus: “I need to pay the owner Tk3,000-4,000 every day for the bus. There are additional costs of up to Tk5,000, which includes paying the helper, and buying food and fuel. There is also police extortion on the roads. After covering those expenses, I make a little for myself.”
Sattar pointed out that most buses operate on the trip-based system and many drivers become aggressive for the same reasons.
Most public transport drivers more or less have the same story. Their income in Dhaka has gone down due to rising traffic jams and tailbacks. This is a major factor in the rising number of road accidents in Dhaka.
Also, the World Bank in 2018 said Dhaka traffic wastes 3.2 million working hours, with the 7kmph average driving speed in the city costing the economy billions.
In May 2018, the Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (ARI,Buet) reported that 5 million work hours are annually lost to traffic delays , costing the economy Tk37,000 crore. The report noted that right measures could recoup 60% of the losses, amounting to nearly Tk22,200 crore.
Reckless driving and road crashes
According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), buses are responsible for 23% of all road crashes in Bangladesh. ARI, Buet, findings show that buses, trucks, and other heavy vehicles cause 47% of the road crashes.
Khandaker Enayet Ullah, owner of Ena Paribahan and general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners' Association, said: “Unless the ticket counter system is brought back again, trip-based driving cannot be stopped. We have already asked the government to arrange counters by the roadside.”
He added: “Neither owners nor workers want to incur losses. That is why the trip-based system came about and it cannot be stopped overnight. There has to be an alternative first.”
Also Read- Roads of death
Many transport experts believe that reckless drivers are the reason for the staggering number of road accidents in the country.
“Bus drivers drive more recklessly and aggressively when they fail to make their targeted number of trips because of traffic jams, and gridlock cuts into their income,” they added.
Actor-turned-activist, Ilias Kanchan, chairman of Nirapad Sarak Chai, told Dhaka Tribune: “Worker members of road transport associations refuse to accept the decision to stop trip-based driving because it affects their income. In addition to determining the salary of the driver and helper, the owner must get his fixed daily deposit. Only bus owners, association leaders, and government agencies, can sit down and determine their respective wages and dues.”
Could bus franchises be the future?
Kazi Md Saifun Newaz, assistant professor at ARI, Buet, said: “I will not say that only the driver is responsible for road accidents. Our system is responsible. I think reckless driving and competition cannot be stopped if too many companies operate on the same route. As a result, they depend on more trips to meet their quota.”
He added that if a franchising system is not introduced in Dhaka, it will not be realistic to stop trip-based driving and compensation, which in turn leads to reckless driving and more accidents.
Introducing bus franchises was a concept promoted by the late mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation, Annisul Huq. The late mayor was working to consolidate the 194 bus routes and 6,116 buses in Dhaka for a more efficient system. Plans included drawing up six basic routes instead of 194, and setting up six holding companies for the 137 bus companies, and reducing the bus numbers to just 4,000.
Also Read- Half-done is worse
Current DNCC Mayor Atiqul Islam said that the trip-based tradition is being phased out soon.
He said: “We will have the bus franchises ready by the next two years. We are going to introduce drug tests for drivers. We will soon meet with the Bus Owners Association to discuss dismantling the trip-based system.”