Dolonchapa – addressing the need for safe public transportation
While going through the pages of a newspaper, the news of a bus service dedicated to women – Dolonchapa – caught my attention. Although such an initiative isn't something completely new, but one can't really deny that such an addition will actually help provide some relief to women who use public transport in the capital.
With the aim to experience it on my own, I decided to take a trip on the bus myself. A joint venture by Rangs Group and Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles (VECV), the non AC bus service was launched in June and aspires to protect female passengers from sexual harassment while travelling on public transport.
A large number of women in Dhaka use public transport. The Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) currently operates 17 single and double-decker buses on 13 routes across Dhaka only for women, but they are nearly not enough to cater to the large volume of female commuters who travel via public buses every day.
In this situation, introducing this bus service brings relief to the female commuters of Dhaka.
With much enthusiasm, I stood on the footpath beside the Farmgate bus-stop for almost three hours on Sunday. However, it was all in vain as I did not get to see the bus at all – let alone taking a ride on it. Moreover, when I asked people at the nearby bus-counters about Dolonchapa, I was left with nothing but answers saying either they don’t know about it or the infrequent visibility of the bus.
Next morning, I made my way towards Farmgate in order to test my luck once again. This time, Dolonchapa did not disappoint me and arrived at around 1pm – although that was after I had waited for almost two hours.
As the bus slowed down near the bus-stop, I could hear a woman calling out at the top of her voice, asking female passengers who were on their way to Banglamotor, Shahbagh, the Press Club intersection, Gulistan and Motijheel, to get on the bus. I jumped on as fast as I could. After taking the seat, when I looked around, I found only six passengers inside, along with supervisor Abdul Kayyum and contractor Shanta Akhter.
I immediately struck a conversation with the supervisor, Abdul Kayyum, who informed me that they did not get more than 20 female passengers on the bus around this time of the day. He also said that during the Eid holidays, they were able to complete four trips in a day, but with the endless traffic congestion after Eid, the number of trips per day has dropped down to three.
“Our first trip starts from Mirpur 12 around 7:30am, and the bus is usually packed with passengers at that time. It takes around three hours to reach our last stop, which is Motijheel. We try to start our last trip by 6:30pm latest, as that is generally the time for working women to get back home,” he informed.
Though the bus is only dedicated for women, men often jump onto the bus and are reluctant to get down even after being asked to do so. The fare ranges from Tk7 to Tk30, which most of the passengers find appropriate.
Having said that, I had invested five hours in two days only to get on the bus itself, without any minimum knowledge regarding the routes. At this point, the only thing that came to my mind was what can be the solution to making the service more accessible to women like me?
While talking to Shamita Tabassum, Project Manager, Dolonchapa said, “We have started working since last year to make Dolonchapa a bus service with a friendly-environment, that is trouble-free and pertinent for women. Our involvement with the initiative is becoming intensive day by day while aiming to resolve the hitches and working on recommendations because we know it is way too difficult to serve the people with only one bus, owing to the excess traffic congestion in Dhaka city. ”
With every new feedback, the team associated with Dolonchapa feel challenged to fulfill their passengers' demands. However, on the way of making the service a bit more accessible for commuters, traffic congestion is proving to be the leading hindrance.
Discussing the launch of another bus on the same route next month, Shamita Tabassum said, “In future we plan to endow every route of Dhaka city with the female bus service. However, at this moment we are focusing on serving the passengers who travel through the routes that we're using currently.”
A large number of women aspire to avail the bus service, seeking assistance through calling on their helpline or inquiring through their Facebook page to know about the timings or the current location of the bus.
One such female commuter is Shamsun Nahar. Using the service on a regular basis, the 47 years-old said, “Amid the alarming trend of sexual violence against women in the country's public transport sector, such a service is quite necessary. I consider myself lucky that the route of the bus covers that of my home and working place.”
Another Project Manager, Dolonchapa, Tajrin Jahan, said, “We get quite a good number of calls from commuters to track the bus’s current location and its timings everyday. The number of such calls and messages on Facebook reach its peak before office timings and in the evening, when work ends.”
During my trip, I found only two passengers who commute using Dolonchapa on a daily basis. And rest of my fellow passengers were experiencing their very first trip, just like me.
On my way back, a girl named Umme Atia got on the bus from Shapla Chottor (Shapla Square) and sat beside me. When asked how she came to know about Dolonchapa, Umme said that she came to know of through Facebook, but couldn’t try it out earlier. She also acknowledged the fact that commuters cannot enjoy the service due to its distant route placement from her college and the unpredictable timing of it.
“Who wants to squeeze in and get harassed among a crowd of male passengers on a bus? Even if this bus gets crowded it wouldn’t be a problem for me since all of us are women,” said Umme. “If my timings match with that of Dolonchapa, I'll certainly use it everyday,” she added.
Adding even one more bus to the existing route would double the number of trips. However the accessibility still remains an issue to work on. The team is planning to launch a mobile app in the upcoming months which will help commuters track down the current location of the bus. “By knowing the location of bus, commuters can avail the service without having to wait for a long time at the bus-stops,” said Shamita Tabassum.
The team also plans to endorse a more technologically-advanced ticketing system. Although the routes are yet to be finalized, 10 more buses will be added within the next six months, confirmed one of the spokespersons.
Apart from being equipped with CCTV cameras and first aid box, Dolonchapa can accommodate 34 female passengers. The bus also has special facilities for disabled people.
Dolonchapa – a bus service which is almost a month old now, has gathered hope for the female commuters of Dhaka, and we are looking forward for it to flourish and achieve its motive of providing a safe journey for women.