Towards the end of last month, Bangladesh Road and Transport Authority (BRTA) permitted only 255 four-wheelers with special enlistment certificates to operate, increasing the numbers eventually.
There are currently 12 major ride-sharing companies that operate throughout the country. To put things into perspective, there are about 300,000 registered riders in Pathao alone. Some of the other companies that operate are Uber, OBHAI and Shohoz. The ongoing pandemic has caused these ride-sharing companies to halt their services, pushing their employees towards an uncertain future. On June 1, a joint letter by the two biggest companies, Uber and Pathao, was sent to the chairman of BRTA, asking for permission to allow them to start operating again. In the letter, they mentioned that social distancing was more easily possible in the cars compared to the other public transport services, which have been given a green signal to resume operations. They also provided examples of many countries that have allowed ride-sharing services to operate, while restricting other public transport services during the lockdown period.
From July 1, Pathao officially resumed their operations, with around 2,000 BRTA enlisted cars. However, two-wheelers are still restricted by BRTA based on the grounds of health and safety. With many offices being reopened since June, going to work has become a challenge, with buses (which hardly maintain any health and safety protocols) being the only mode of transport for many. With businesses reopening, and the demand for ride-sharing services increasing with it, we are yet to see what BRTA decides to do regarding the bike services.
According to a press release, Pathao is providing its drivers with face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, and other hygiene products partnering with ACI and Mr Hygiene, besides implementing safety protocols based on technical guidance provided by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). Uber and Pathao have both reduced their fares by offering almost 50% discounts, in many cases.
“Today is the first time I took my car out in three months, with very little left in my savings account,” said Zakaria, a full-time Uber driver. He talked about the installments he is having to pay for the loan he has bought the car with. The added burden of the increased tax on cars in the recent budget has also put these riders in a very tight spot -- many of whom are willing to sell off their cars and head back to their villages.
As the Eid-ul Azha draws nearer, the demand for such services is likely to go back to normal. The customers are also expected to be mindful while using these services -- wearing facemasks in the vehicle and using digital payments for their own safety and the drivers’. Many customers have complained while speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, about not having a transparent plastic covering that separates the front seats and the rear, which is mandatory in many other countries. They suggested that would bring more confidence among the users. There should also be measures like hand sanitizers being made available inside the cars so the passengers can disinfect themselves after coming in from outside.