On June 1, the government allowed public transports to operate on the condition that they would carry passengers at half capacity. Bus operators were also allowed to hike fares by 60% to make up the losses incurred by keeping seats vacant
Frequent breaches of health protocols on buses, trains and launches are contributing to an already rising number of Covid-19 infections in Bangladesh.
On June 1, the government allowed public transports to operate on the condition that they would carry passengers at half capacity. Bus operators were also allowed to hike fares by 60% to make up the losses incurred by keeping seats vacant.
However, many bus operators have been charging 100% higher fares while still carrying their full complement of passengers.
On Wednesday, bus owners urged the government to be allowed to return to normal operation and fares, as they did not wish to be party to any corruption and since the half capacity measure was difficult to enforce.
Virologists, however, have strongly discouraged operating public transports without social distancing measures as it leads to unchecked transmission of Covid-19.
Passengers of buses said it was not possible to follow health rules while travelling as bus operators ensured that all the seats were occupied.
Mass Dog Vaccination (MDV) expert Mujib Rahman travels to work from Kalyanpur to Mohakhali by bus every day.
Mujib told Dhaka Tribune: “It is not possible to maintain social distance on the days I go to the office before 10 in the morning. Buses are full of passengers, with some people even standing. No one wears masks and transport workers do not maintain any hygiene rules.
"Sometimes, passengers say we will sit together and pay the previous fare, and the bus staff are taking advantage of that and putting them together," he added.
A visit to the Kalyanpur bus terminals found no signs of compliance with health rules on buses leaving Dhaka for other districts. Passengers waiting by the counters were congregated as crowds.
Sajjad Rahman has traveled from Dhaka to Chittagong four times recently due to his mother's eye surgery in June.
He said the non-AC fare had now risen from Tk480 to Tk800. Bus operators pick up extra passengers to fill all the seats after crossing Comilla
Few people wear masks, he added.
Bus owners: We do not want to be party to corruption
Khandaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners' Association, on Wednesday said: “We have sent a letter to the government saying that we [owners] want to operate the buses on intercity and long routes with 100% passengers.
“We don't want to be a party to corruption by taking more than 60% fares. Due to the pressure of passengers, we have to operate intercity buses at full capacity during the office rush hours. On several occasions, passengers have vandalized buses when they were denied entry and we had to call the police,” he added.
“We are taking action with our four monitoring teams if anyone is charging extra fares or breaching protocols, but it is almost impossible to exercise control. We do not have enough buses to carry all the passengers if we operate at half capacity,” he further said.
‘Launches are the most hazardous’
Passengers of launches said the situation on the water transports was proving to be the most chaotic and hazardous.
Jahir Rayhan, who traveled from Dhaka to Barisal on Sunday night, said: “You would not know there was Covid-19 in Bangladesh by looking at the deck. People gather in crowds, they sit together playing cards, and do everything else without wearing masks.
The launches are also taking the same number of passengers as before, not half the number as per rules, he added.
No one wearing masks at train stations
The number of trains has decreased by 40% due to Covid-19 and are carrying passengers at half capacity. Train fares remain the same, said Omor Ali, platform station master at Kamalapur Railway Station.
“However, passengers waiting at the station are not wearing masks. Although we have eight handwashing stations in front of the three gates to enter the station, very few people actually use them,” he added.
Rikta Akhter, a passenger on one of the trains, said many passengers moved around after the train left the station, and they were not discouraged by any scolding or reprimand.
“We cannot force people to wear masks and follow the rules. I couldn’t even keep my own mask on for very long on the train,” she added.
Omor Ali said the railway authorities were implementing a “no mask, no service” policy, but many passengers took their masks off after getting on the train.
“We take action against passengers who stand during train journeys as we get complaints,” he added.
Virologist Prof Nazrul Islam, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, told Dhaka Tribune: “Covid-19 deaths are already on the rise. Breaches of health rules on public transports is one of the reasons for the increase in transmission.”
If the public transports did not comply with the half capacity rule, the system needed to be further restricted, he added.