With the three-month suspension of a special drive against so-called "seating service" buses plying the Dhaka streets coming to an end this weekend, the fate of such service is likely to be decided today.
A meeting of an eight-member committee, which was designated to determine whether such buses can be allowed to run in the city, is scheduled to be held at Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) head office at 11:00am.
“Final decision on 'seating service' would be taken at the meeting tomorrow [today],” Mahbub-E-Rabbani, director (road safety) of BRTA and also the head of the committee, told The Daily Star yesterday.
As per their earlier announcement, transport owners on April 15 stopped operating "seating service" amid widespread allegations that the bus authorities were charging extra fare.
Following that, BRTA, in association with Dhaka Road Transport Owners' Association's vigilance teams, conducted mobile courts to stop such practice.
But the move backfired as a good number of buses were withdrawn from the streets for five consecutive days, causing immense sufferings to commuters.
Against the backdrop, BRTA suspended their drive for 15 days and later for three months. It also formed the eight-member committee to decide if "seating service" is necessary and if the service could be brought under a legal framework.
Led by Mahbub-E-Rabbani, the committee has representatives from bus owners and workers association, journalists and police.
Mahbubur Rahman, organising secretary of the association and also a member of the committee, told The Daily Star yesterday that two meetings of the committee had already been held and they had given their opinions.
“BRTA also took people's opinion through its website. Actually, people want 'seating service',” he said, adding that the decision in this regard would be taken at today's meeting.
ALLEGATIONS AGAINST SEATING SERVICES
During suspension of BRTA drive, bus operators continued charging extra fares defying government-fixed rate, alleged commuters.
During rush hours, many of these “seating service” buses turn into regular buses with people standing, said passengers, adding that the fare do not change then.
Branding their service “seating-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, they alleged.
In a somewhat different scenario, some regular buses turn into "seating service" during office hours in the morning when the transport crisis reaches its peak, passengers said.
“I was running late and I begged them [seating service bus staffers] to let me get on the bus, but they pushed me forcibly,” complained Sohanur Rahman, who was struggling to board a Gabtoli-bound bus, operating on route no 22, from Jatrabari.
“The same bus stops wherever it gets passengers at other times,” said Rahman, who works at a private company in Paltan.
Another bus company, Rongdhanu, which operates between Jurain and Mohammadpur via Kakrail, charges Tk 15 from Doyaganj to Kakrail demanding it a "seating service" but they collect passengers wherever they find any, alleged some passengers.
“It is a total anarchy. They charge high but stop here and there. If we protest, the bus staffers misbehave with us,” said Wahid Ahmed, a resident of Wari. “We [passengers] are ultimate losers,” said a frustrated Wahid.
Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, secretary general of Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh, said they have conducted a survey on 300 buses on 17 routes in Dhaka city during last Ramadan and found that 98 percent of them are operating in the name of “seating service”.
The number of "seating service" buses has even increased after the suspension of the BRTA drive, he said.
Although operation of such self-devised system is illegal but the system has been continuing for a decade thanks to the inaction of BRTA and traffic police, Mozammel added.
Transport Owners' Association Secretary General Khandaker Enayetullah also admitted irregularities in “seating service”.
He, however, claimed, “People want 'seating service'. So, the authorities have to bring the service under a legal framework."
The government can issue separate route permit for "seating service" buses, and re-fix their fares to solve the existing problem, he added.