Owners say they are facing obstruction from freight transport workers who are on strike
Commuters in Dhaka city suffered on Wednesday as most of public transports, mainly buses, went off the streets without any notice or formal announcement of a strike.
Hundreds of people were seen waiting hopelessly for public transport at key points of the city in the morning, and later forced to take small vehicles or rickshaws to travel to their destinations.
The owners and workers of freight transport, including trucks and covered-vans, imposed an indefinite strike across the country on Wednesday, rejecting the new and stricter Road Transport Act and demanding amendment to some of its provisions.
Their strike follows the one that bus-truck owners in the country’s southern districts launched on Monday over the same reason.
Bus and truck owners in around 30 districts joined the strike on Tuesday.
Though bus owners in Dhaka have yet to formally join the freight transport strike, the city streets were almost devoid of public transport buses since morning on Wednesday.
The situation improved and more buses came out on the streets later in the evening, but that did little to help the people who were seen waiting for buses at many city points, including Jatrabari, Gulistan, Shahbagh, Science Lab, Karwan Bazar, Farmgate and Kalabagan.
Travelling from Postogola to Dhanmondi, one of these correspondents saw only a handful of buses and heavy vehicles on the streets, many of which belonged to public universities, government offices and police.
Most of the city buses carrying general people were seen in Gulistan. But they were not enough to transport all the commuters waiting on both sides of the roads.
Fewer CNG-run autorickshaws were seen on the streets than usual as well.
Huddled at the autorickshaw stand in Jurain rail gate area, some of the drivers said they were afraid to go out for trips as the heavy vehicle owners and workers were on strike.
Requesting anonymity, one autorickshaw driver said: “We were attacked when we operated during the last several strikes such as this one. The bus, truck workers vandalized our vehicles. We do not want that happening to us again.”
Some of them were also seen refusing passengers, saying they would not go outside the city boundaries.
Journalist Tahmina Tania, who lives in Jurain, said: “I faced some trouble in finding an autorickshaw when I wanted to go to Jatrabari’s Bibir Bagicha area to pick up my ailing grandmother. It is a 10-minute distance. But no one wanted to go.
“The one driver who agreed to go made it clear that he would not go any further than my destination.”
‘We do not want the strike’
Transport owners in Dhaka have grounded most of their buses, in order to avoid fines by mobile courts implementing the new traffic law with stricter punishments, as many of them operate without valid registration and fitness certificates.
The shortage of drivers with valid licences also played a part in worsening the situation, and causing commuters inconvenience on a massive scale.
Asked whether they were showing solidarity to the freight transport strike, Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association General Secretary Khandaker Enayetullah said they did not.
“We do not want the strike,” he told Dhaka Tribune. “But we cannot operate buses because truck workers have obstructed movement in several areas across the city, including Mirpur, Mohammadpur, Tejgaon and Shanir Akhra.”
He further alleged that the protesting workers also attacked bus drivers and their assistants, and snatched the keys and money from them.
“Movement of intercity buses has also been interrupted due to protests by the workers on strike in different parts of the country,” Enayetullah added.
The association mainly controls Mohakhali, Sayedabad and Fulbaria bus terminals.
Around 6:15am on Wednesday, protesting transport workers put up blockades with their vehicles on the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway and Dhaka-Narayanganj link road in Signboard area.
The blockade subsequently cut off traffic on the Dhaka-Sylhet Highway, apart from creating gridlocks for hours on both sides for several kilometres.
The protesters, however, removed the blockade around 2pm, after police peacefully intervened, allowing the traffic to return to normal on the highways and the roads.
Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury, secretary general of Bangladesh Passengers’ Welfare Association, told Dhaka Tribune: “The owners are afraid to operate buses without fitness certificates as BRTA mobile courts are working around the city.
“Many drivers are not taking the risk to drive without licences, to avoid fines and jail. As a result, they are willing to abstain from work,” he said.
Mozammel said the government should be lenient in enforcing the new law. “That will give the vehicle owners and workers the time to get their licences, fitness certificates and other necessary documents in order.
“Otherwise, they will try to ‘manage’ the police like they usually do, and that will hamper the proper implementation of this long-awaited law.”
A silver lining
The public suffering notwithstanding, it was a good day for rickshaw-pullers and drivers who share rides through apps such as Pathao, Uber, Obhai, etc in Dhaka.
Rickshaws were seen freely plying all the main streets in absence of heavy vehicles.
Some of them, however, were seen charging extra to go long distance.
Apart from the personal vehicles, small vehicles including motorcycles, cars, microbuses, and autorickshaws were high on demand as many of them operated through the ride-sharing apps.
“Today was a good day. The demand was high. I have made several long distance trips inside the city,” said Md Firoj Ali, who shares ride on his motorcycle.
However, many drivers of these vehicles were also seen sharing rides on contractual basis and bargaining fares.
“This is absurd. How are people supposed to travel?” said service holder Emdad Ahmed, who had to use the Pathao app to get a motorcycle ride home after failing to get public transport.
“The government and the transport workers need to come up with a solution to the crisis soon,” he said. “Otherwise, the general people will continue to suffer.”