Regulating our erratic bus service
The bus service in Dhaka is now probably at an all-time low in terms of the service it is providing to its patrons. Operating shabby and unfit buses, operating buses with drivers without a valid driving license, drivers driving recklessly to compete with each other to take more passengers, loading and unloading passengers without coming to a complete stop, loading and unloading passengers in the middle of the street or near an intersection and harassing passengers are just some of the irregularities that are being practiced by the bus operators in Dhaka for quite some time.
The reckless and irresponsible driving by the bus drivers is not only raising safety concerns for the passengers, but also to other commuters. In fact, behaviours such as double parking the buses, parking the buses diagonally in the middle of the road and loading and unloading passengers near an intersection often cause traffic mayhem in the city.
Due to the reckless driving of the bus drivers, just in a span of less than a few weeks, a student named Rajib lost a hand and later died, another woman almost lost her leg and a driver of a bus died while colliding head on with another bus. Recently, a university student was sexually harassed on a bus by the driver, conductor and the driver’s assistant.
Till date, there have been numerous reports on the irregularities practiced by the bus operators and till date numerous actions has been taken by the authority to improve the bus service, but nothing has changed in terms of the service provided by the buses.
Although Dhaka is a city of more than 15 million people, the bus is still the only mass transport service that is available. As a result, despite being unsafe, many people in the city have no other choice but to depend on the bus service for their daily commute.
When the bus operators go on strike to force the authority to comply with their unethical demands, many commuters get stranded and become helpless as this is the only feasible transport option they have.
Thankfully, the present government has taken the initiative to construct a metro rail, and after it starts operations, it should be a big relief for the people living and working in and around Dhaka. However, it will take at least a good few more years before people can actually start using it.
Thus, before the metro rail comes into operation, measures have to be taken to improve the bus service. All the current attempts taken to improve the existing bus services have not been very effective, and if the presentscenario continues, so will the distress both to passengers and pedestrians because it is likely to cause further loss of lives and limbs and economic loss as well. Instead of trying to improve the existing system, a completely new system or a new method of operation can be considered as provided below to improve the bus service in Dhaka.
Currently, several operators are operating the buses in Dhaka. Often without much study, BRTA provides route permits to bus operators.
According to the current system, to maximise profit, the bus drivers have to enter into an unhealthy and reckless competition with other buses by carrying more passengers in less time which they achieve by speeding, driving recklessly, over-crowding, and loading and unloading passengers from a running bus, often in the middle of a busy road or near an intersection.
As long as this unhealthy competition among the bus operators continues, there may not be much change in the way the buses manoeuvre in Dhaka. A win-win solution for everyone including the bus operators, the drivers, the ticket collectors and most importantly the passengers and other road users is to bring the bus operators under one umbrella.
The government or BRTA can do this by first buying the existing buses from the bus operators and then scrapping the undesirables. After that they can purchase a new fleet of modern city buses and according to the transport demand deploy these buses on different routes throughout the city.
The authority can then sell shares of this new bus service, giving priority to former bus operators who had to sell off their buses. The city in collaboration with private entities can then operate and maintain the new bus service.
Qualified drivers and ticket collectors from the current bus service can be hired for the new bus service and entitled under a permanent pay-roll system. Since the profit of the system will be shared equitably (based on the number of shares) among all shareholders and since, the bus drivers and ticket collectors will be under a pay-roll system, there will be no more need for an unhealthy competition. This will certainly enhance the safety standard of the buses and provide a much better service to the passengers.
This example was executed in Johannesburg, South Africa, where minibus taxi operators had to sell off their ramshackle minibus taxis to the city and then become shareholders of the city’s Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
It is important to note that even after the metro rail starts its operation, there will still be many people who will have to commute by bus because the metro rail will not provide connectivity to all areas of the city and due to affordability issues it may not be possible for many to avail the metro rail. Therefore, to ensure a safe, smooth, efficient and quality public transport system in Dhaka, BRTA may consider the above solution to improve the bus service in the city.
Ridwan Quaium is a transport engineer working in Thailand