The movement of millions of city dwellers back to their homes for the Eid-ul-Azha festival is apparently not a boon for transport companies, as per the top three inter-district bus operators.
The operators say seats for every trip to far-away districts are sold out way ahead of Eid but the vehicles return to Dhaka almost empty.
“People do not come to Dhaka prior to Eid. So we get only a few passengers in our return trips from district towns,” said Md Faruk Talukder Sohel, managing director of Shohagh Paribahan Ltd.
One crore people are estimated to leave Dhaka ahead of Eid on Saturday.
An additional 29 lakh people from the industrial zones of Narayanganj and Gazipur are expected to join the travel rush, according to the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways.
Of the total, 71 lakh are estimated to travel over roads and the rest on rail and waterways, it said.
“This is a one-way business,” said Ramesh Chandra Ghosh, managing director of Shyamoli Paribahan, which has over 500 buses in its fleet.
The number of seats occupied during round trips drops to 55 percent during Eid from 90 percent in other times, he said.
Ghosh said small transporters charge fares higher than the government-fixed rates, cashing in on the demand.
“Truly speaking, we do not do good business during Eid, rather our operating expenses rise ahead of the festival as the rate of extortion at various points goes up. Nowadays, the extortion is termed as tips,” said Ghosh.
The operators said the surge in traffic would have been beneficial had there been travellers from both ends before and after Eid.
Sohel said the surge in traffic movement raises the income of operators who neither hesitate to take extra passengers nor care about the sufferings caused to passengers and the damage to reputations.
“However, this is an opportunity for us to augment our brand value by providing better services to travellers. If we cannot serve them better now, they will not prefer us for the rest of the year,” said the chief of the 200-fleet Shohagh Paribahan, which also owns 50 air-conditioned buses.
Sohel, also the chairman of Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners Association, said not all bus operators increase fares during Eid. “The percentage of transporters charging higher fares is insignificant,” he said.
Mosharraf Hossain, general manager of Hanif Enterprise, the largest inter-district bus operator, said inter-district operators witnessed increased demand also in December, when families visit homes or holiday spots after the children's annual exams.
On a regular day, 5,000 buses leave for various districts from Dhaka and an equal number of vehicles return to the capital loaded with passengers to their full capacity.
Truckers, however, do good business during Eid because of increased demand for carrying cattle from suburbs to cities, said Rustom Ali Khan, general secretary of the Bangladesh Truck and Covered Van Owners Association.
Roads carry over 88 percent of the total passenger traffic and 80 percent of total freight traffic in Bangladesh.
Waterways and rail carry the rest, according to a report of the planning commission that quoted a publication of World Bank.