The maximum fare from Jatrabari to Motijheel, only three kilometres apart, should be Tk 5 but Shahnaz Khatun has to pay Tk 10 for the ride in a so-called sitting-service bus.
The capital's bus owners are charging the passengers fares at their will every day ignoring the government-set fares.
It seems there are no rules regarding fares, said passengers.
During rush hours, these “sitting service” buses turn into regular buses with people standing, they said, adding that the fare do not change then.
To collect the extra fare, bus owners ignore the set fare and use their self-devised system. Such “sitting service” system is illegal, according to Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) officials.
Yet, several bus service providers, operating between Jatrabari and Farmgate, charge extra using this “system”, as the authorities seems to be doing not much to stop this.
Meshkat and Gabtoli Link (sitting service) both charge Tk 20 per passenger on that route. The fare according to the BRTA website is Tk 15 for large buses.
Branding their service “sitting-service”, “gate-lock”, “non-stop”, “time-controlled”, “speedy service” and “counter service”, operators charge high fare even though those buses stop almost anywhere their drivers deem fit.
“When there are vacant seats, they [bus drivers] stop wherever they want, be it the middle of the road or at lesser known stops [not designated bus stop],” said Jalal Uddin, a salesman of a shop at Bashundhara City Shopping Complex.
“But when they sense that the passengers are in trouble and there is a shortage of transport, they not only charge more but also don't want to pick up passengers,” said Jalal's colleague Mizan Ahmed.
Both of them were in a bus of Meshkat Paribahan that has been running as “sitting-service” since January 1.
Meshkat used to charge Tk 12 from Jatrabari to Farmgate. Now it makes passengers pay Tk 20.
“We didn't want this change. Our MD [managing director] forcibly turned it into a sitting service. You better talk to him,” said one of the owners of Meshkat wishing to be not named.
Talking to The Daily Star, its MD, Sharfuddin Dipu, said he has turned it into “sitting service” to bring discipline among his staff.
Asked why passengers were made to pay more so that he could discipline his staff, he avoided the question and accused passengers of dodging fares frequently.
Many buses charge Tk 10 from Gulistan to Farmgate but Himachal and Swadhin bus service providers charge Tk 25.
According to the BRTA site, the fare should not be more than Tk 8 for the distance in large buses.
Dhaka Metro's Regional Transport Committee, on September 16, 2015, published on the BRTA website a fare chart for bus service providers following discussions with bus owners.
According to it, the fare for bus and minibus is Tk 1.7 and Tk 1.6 for per kilometre. The minimum fare was fixed at Tk 7 and Tk 5 respectively.
It is less than two kilometres from Gulshan-1 to Mohakhali but many bus operators charge Tk 10 from passengers during rush hours.
On February 14, Samiur Rahman was returning home from his work in Gulshan on Alif Paribahan. The conductor demanded Tk 10 for the trip to Mohakhali from Gulshan-1.
Samiur protested but the conductor stood his ground. At one point, both attempted to assault each other.
“It's less than two kilometres. How can they demand Tk 10?” said Samiur angrily.
Again, even though conductors have to get a licence from the BRTA, hardly any conductor is found with a licence.
To be eligible to get the licence, a conductor has to have good manners and be at least 18 years old.
When asked if he had a licence, Mojibar, a 17-year-old conductor, looked at this correspondent with surprise. He has been doing this job for two years in Dhaka.
NO FARE CHART
The BRTA has made it mandatory for the bus operators to hang and preserve the fare chart in vehicles.
Travelling in buses of different city routes, this correspondent did not see any fare chart.
Whenever a passenger asked about the legality of the excess fare, bus staff showed their own made-up fare chart.
Vice-President SM Nazer Hossain of Consumers Association of Bangladesh said the representation of the government in the regional transport committee, which gives route permits, was poor and that most of the posts were occupied by bus owners and transport workers.
Because of their poor representation, the BRTA could not play effective role in addressing the issues, he said.
Echoing Nazer, Secretary General Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury of Bangladesh Passengers' Welfare Association said most of the bus owners are ruling-party affiliated and that they do not care about the rules.
“Political will is needed to protect the passengers,” he said.
Dhaka Road Transport Owners' Association Secretary General Khandaker Enayetullah said they have cancelled the registrations of many transport owners with the association and have recommended cancellation of their route permits.
“Law should be implemented strictly to stop the charging of excessive fare,” said Enayetullah, also the vice-president of Dhaka city unit (south) Awami League.
Pointing out that there is no legal basis of “special services”, BRTA Director (enforcement) Nazmul Ahsan Majumdar said their four mobile courts regularly check if excess fare was being charged.
Asked why their drives could not stop such practices, he said, “We need cooperation from everyone. If the bus owners and staff comply with the law, it will stop.
“We expect the Road Transport Act to be passed by next June. It has provisions for strict punishment and high fines. After that, I hope the practice of charging high fares would reduce significantly,” he said.
According to the BRTA, about 28,264 buses and 10,239 minibuses were registered as of February 2017 with Dhaka city route permits. They can carry about 17.2 lakh passengers on each trip.