Ratna Raha, a retired schoolteacher, stepped out of her home at Chawkbazar's KB Aman Ali Road yesterday morning. She needed to make a trip to Teribazar area for some emergency shopping.
To her utter surprise, she soon found out that there was no vacant rickshaw that could take her to the nearest bus stand. After waiting for 20 minutes, she decided to start walking and reached the bus stand at Chawkbazar, where more surprises awaited her.
There was an unusual gathering of people at the bus stand yesterday. Everyone was waiting for a seat at a public transport, except none were there. "What happened?" she asked a person.
She got to know that buses and human hauliers weren't carrying more than half their capacity, which has created this crisis for transport across the city. "I've been standing here for half-an-hour to go to Anderkilla," the man told her.
Minutes later, a bus arrived, raising everyone's hopes. But it only had 10 vacant seats, while there were around 50 people willing to ride. Everyone rushed to board it, but 40 people, including Ratna, failed to make their way to the seats and had to come back, in frustration.
Ratna started to look for CNG-run auto-rickshaws, but even they were hard to find. The few that could be seen were charging almost double the usual fare, but Ratna couldn't afford to pay so much. She decided to start walking again.
"Have you decided to walk all the way to Teribazar?" this correspondent asked her. "Maybe not all the way, it's pretty far off, but as much as possible, and then take a rickshaw or auto-rickshaw from there," she replied. "If I can bring down the fare even a little bit by walking, that would help me a lot."
Ratna's tale is just one out of many. When this correspondent some important areas in the port city, including Chawkbazar, Muradpur, Bahaddarhat, and Sholashahar Gate No.2, he came across similar experiences by people who suffered due to this acute shortage of public transport yesterday.
In many areas, passengers alleged that although government has declared a 60 percent increase in fare, some transport workers were realising almost double that, adding to the passengers' woes.
According to the updated fare, Kamrul Hasan's trip from Kazir Dewri to Chawkbazar on a human haulier should cost Tk 8, as the previous fare was Tk 5. But in reality, he was charged an addition Tk 2.
"The increased fare should be Tk 8 for the distance but they compelled me to pay Tk 10. When I protested, they threatened to kick me out and so I had to oblige," the frustration could be heard in his voice.
Human haulier driver Md Sohel admitted to this overpricing, but said they were only doing it because the 60 percent fare hike wouldn't be enough to compensate for the number of seats they have to leave empty.
"Earlier, we used to carry passengers even on the steps, but now we're down to only half of the seats. We cannot survive in this way," he told this correspondent. "Many drivers didn't even come out today because of this," he added.
But exceptions could be seen in some areas too. In Rahattarpool, smaller public vehicles like human hauliers were plying the roads at full capacity.
Asked, driver Md Kashem put the blame on passengers. "We've tried to resist them, but they don't listen and keep packing my tempo up."
He said it's possible in this area as police patrolling is a little relaxed in this route, from Bahaddarhat to Karnaphuli Shah Amanat Bridge.
"If the police asks me to carry half the passengers, I'll gladly do so," he said, adding that he's not charging beyond the government price since he's running at capacity.
Contacted, Sumani Akter, additional district magistrate of Chattogram, said mobile courts of Chattogram District Administration are on the road to look into irregularities in public transport.
"Tough actions will be taken against both transport workers and commuters if health guideline violations are detected," she warned.