Train capacity will be halved ensuring the 13-point health guidelines imposed by the government for the aforementioned 16 days
As the government lifted the nationwide shutdown, three most common and affordable modes of public transports — trains, buses and launches — are set to resume operation after being suspended for 66 days in an effort to stop the spread of Covid-19.
But the operation of the vehicles will be subject to conditions of maintaining health guidelines as the coronavirus cases keep rising. Also, public transportation will be on a limited scale initially for 16 days starting from Sunday to June 15.
Train capacity will be halved ensuring the 13-point health guidelines imposed by the government for the aforementioned 16 days, said a top official.
He, however, is not sure about the consequences of a mad rush of Eid holidaymakers returning to major cities, mostly to Dhaka.
Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan said that in order to maintain health guidelines, a limited number of trains will run from Sunday and to maintain social distancing, only 50% of tickets will be sold.
“Initially, only intercity train services will run,” he told the Dhaka Tribune on Friday.
“For instance, instead of five trains, only two will operate on any particular route. We used to operate six express trains between Dhaka and Chittagong. Now, only two trains will be running,” the minister added.
“The seats are designed to maintain a gap between two passengers,” he said.
Challenges of executing the rules on railways
Executing such a plan will be challenging for the railway authorities, which the ferry services have already faced due to the huge pressure of passengers.
The railway system has a poor capacity to control large numbers of people which is always noticed with rail traffic during the Eid vacations.
Now, many people are planning to head back to Dhaka from their villages following the end of Eid holidays.
However, the railway’s minister said: “We still cannot predict what will happen once train services resume.”
“We will observe the situation. If we cannot control the crowds, then we will set further plans in motion,” he added.
Bangladesh Railway has made masks compulsory for passengers and it will provide hand sanitizer on board the coaches.
On May 31, only eight trains will operate and another nine services from June 3.
The Railway has already prepared its ticket counters to sell tickets following social distancing guidelines, although passengers are encouraged to buy tickets online.
Train coaches prepared for operations are Sonar Bangla Express and Subarna Express on the Dhaka-Chittagong route, Paharika on the Dhaka-Sylhet route, Bonolota Express for Rajshahi, Chitra Express for Khulna, and the Panchagar Express and Lalmoni Express.
Apart from this, Teesta Express, Benapole Express, Nilsagar Express, Rupsa Express, Kopotakha Express, Madhumoti Express, Meghna Express, Kishorganj Express and Upakul Express will likely start operating from June 3.
Launch services resume from Sunday but no hike in fare
In a meeting with launch owners and workers, the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has permitted the resumption of passenger vessel services from without any fare hike.
BIWTA Chairman Golam Sadeq said they were proposed by the launch owners to approve an increase in fare since the vessels will have fewer passengers on board, to maintain health directives.
“But no decision was made on that, which requires more discussions,” he told reporters after the meeting at BIWTA headquarters in Dhaka on Friday.
About the health guidelines, he said: “It will not be so tough to ensure social distancing in the launches if the sitting arrangement designed for the time being is followed properly …. We’ll still examine how the plan works once the launch service resume.”
Mahbub Uddin Ahmed, president of Bangladesh Inland Vessel Owners' Association, said they will have to incur losses if the fares are not increased due to social distancing in the vessels.
“We have been following a specific seating arrangement in launches for the past few decades. But once the social distancing is applied, we’ll have fewer passengers, thus, hampering our income,” he feared.
Buses to keep one-third capacity unused, decision on fare Saturday
Road, Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said buses will have to keep 25-30% seats vacant and should not carry standing passengers while plying the roads from Monday.
“Passengers will have to get on a bus maintaining queues and must keep 3 feet distance from each other,” he said at a meeting with vehicle owners, labour organisations at the office of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority on Friday .
As the buses will carry fewer passengers, the question was raised over bus fare, said Quader adding that BRTA committee will fix the bus fare. The minister also directed to disinfect each and every bus before plying on the roads, meanwhile, passengers, drivers and helpers must wear face masks.
Drivers and helpers will not be permitted to be on duty constantly, he added. Considering the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of transports workers, vehicles have been permitted to ply on roads, said Quader adding that owners will have to keep that in mind and follow the directives.
Drivers and helpers will be provided counselling at every terminal, he said, adding, the people criticised permitting public transports, so buses must ply following the rules while BRTA will continue conducting its mobile courts.
Meanwhile, Road Transport Secretary Md Nazrul Islam said bus fares will be fixed Saturday.
Secretary-General of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners’ Association, Khandaker Enayet Ullah said they have an objection regarding restrictions for inter-district bus services which was imposed by the government due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
“Hopefully, the issue will be resolved soon jointly by the ministries concerned,” he said.
On March 23, as a part of preventive measures against the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, the government declared a general holiday in Bangladesh from March 26 and later extended the shutdown in phases till May 30.
Through a gazette notification on Thursday, it lifted the holiday to help reopen all public, private and autonomous offices and resume public transportation from Sunday.