Travel on the country's highways, waterways and rail were largely trouble-free yesterday even though a large number of people headed home for the Eid holidays.
Bus tickets were pricey but the highways were free of congestion. Trains and launches were overcrowded.
Second-grader Ashfaq Rakin was sparkling with excitement at Mohakhali bus terminal yesterday just before he got on a bus for Tangail with his parents.
“I am going to play with my cousins during Eid as there is no playground around our Uttara home,” said a bubbly Rakin, who will have the opportunity to play out in the open at their Delduar village.
Rakin's father Khalilur Rahman, an engineer, paid Tk 200 for each ticket he bought for his family. The usual price is Tk 160.
Aminul Islam, a technician of a company, was not so “lucky”. He was travelling to his Gaibandha village home along with his wife and kid.
He wanted to buy two tickets from SR Travels at Mohakhali bus terminal around 11:00am yesterday, but the man at the counter said there were no seats left.
Bus steward (supervisor) Md Reza, who was standing near the ticket counter, then told Aminul that he could arrange for two seats if Aminul paid him Tk 1,300, which was almost double the normal price.
Aminul tried to make a deal with Reza for Tk 1,250 but it did not go through.
“I do not know what is in store for me today,” said Aminul, adding, “There is no other bus service to Gaibandha from Mohakhali and I cannot afford an air-conditioned bus.”
The ticket clerk of SR Travels said the supervisors had bought some seats in advance to sell them at higher prices.
Contacted at 3:00pm, Aminul told The Daily Star over the phone that he had got two seats with Hanif Paribahan at Kalyanpur for Tk 1,200. The usual price was Tk 860.
Mohakhali Bus Terminal Bus Owners Association general secretary Abdul Malek claimed ignorance of such manipulation.
SK Biswas, deputy director of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority at the round-the-clock vigilance booth set up at Mohakhali said, “The transport sector is too tough to tackle … the owners are very powerful and we cannot always address the anomalies going on here.”
About the role of the vigilance team set up at Gabtoli and Sayedabad bus terminals to prevent exploitation of passengers, he said it was virtually a toothless watchdog without coordination, police backup and magistrate.
The rush of people heading home for Eid at the Mohakhali and Gabtoli bus terminals yesterday was unusually light compared to past years. Employees of different bus service companies were seen fervently calling for passengers.
Ticketing clerks of Diganta Paribahan at Gabtoli terminal said they had expected the rush to ease yesterday due to two working days before Eid.
Although the number of passengers and vehicles had increased on the highway, travelling on the highways out of Dhaka was relatively hassle-free yesterday, at least two days ahead of Eid.
The communications ministry along with the law-enforcement agencies was keeping the traffic flow smooth. That there was no heavy rain in the last couple of days was a big help.
This year, vehicles are not allowed to stop on the highways to pick up or drop off passengers. The authorities have also been able to keep exits to the city and intersections free of congestion. They have not allowed makeshift bazars sprouting on the highways.
Restrictions on goods-laden trucks on the highways since Friday reduced traffic pressure as well.
People who left the capital for Mymensingh, Chittagong and Rajshahi faced no tailbacks on the highways yesterday.
Buses reached Mymensingh within the usual four hours, Chittagong in six to seven hours and Rajshahi in six hours.
Driver Harun of Shyamoli-Bangla Enterprise, which runs between Dhaka and Haluaghat, told our Mymensingh correspondent, “I started from Mohakhali at 6:30am and reached Mymensingh at 10:30am.”
Desh Travel Manager Zillur Rahman Likhon in Natore said his company's buses yesterday reached Natore in five hours from Gabtoli as there was no traffic on the Dhaka-Tangail highway, reported our Natore correspondent.
Hanif Enterprise counter manager SM Rana, Unique general manager Mohammad Faruk and Shohag Paribahan's Shahabuddin in Chittagong said the Dhaka-Chittagong highway was hassle-free too, reported our Chittagong office.
The usually crowded capital has already started to look empty. Traffic has definitely eased as people in large numbers streamed out of Dhaka in the last few days.
Kamalapur Railway Station saw a huge rush yesterday. Fifty-three regular and three special trains left Kamalapur, carrying more than one lakh people. Each train was packed like sardines. A large number of people were seen traveling on the roofs of trains.
Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) yesterday made a first-ever aerial surveillance of the river routes with two helicopters they got for free from the Meghna Group.
“The aim of the helicopter patrol was to ensure passenger service, launch navigation safety and observation of navigation signalling systems and river port management,” said BIWTA Director Md Abul Bashar.
As to how a bird's eye view from 500 feet in the air would enhance the quality of passenger service, help ascertain risky navigation of vessels and faulty river routes, Bashar said, “It gave us a complete view of what was happening down there.”
“We during the patrol followed vessels and that will enhance passenger service,” said Bashar, who had gone along on one of the flights along the Mawa-Kawrakandi route.
Without being specific, he said the helicopter patrol gave them what he termed “an epoch-making knowledge and experience” on how to have river vessels operate efficiently and properly.
Requesting anonymity, a top official of BIWTA, however, said, “I am not sure and clear at all how such an aerial trip will help enhance passenger services, navigation and safety.
“It rather appears to be a pleasure trip and public stunt,” he said.
Two helicopters will patrol three river routes, including Mawa-Kawrakandi, Dhaka-Chandpur-Barisal and haor areas for two hours every day until July 28, said officials, adding that the BIWTA chairman was behind the idea of the helicopter patrol.
Meghna Group Chairman Mostafa Kamal said, “I offered the helicopters free of cost as a mark of the good relations with the BIWTA chairman … We sometimes donate a vehicle to the police or give something else to other government organisations too.”
He could not readily say how much it would cost his group to let the BIWTA use the choppers.
The BIWTA chairman could not be reached for comments.