In line with the recent government mandate, launch fares on the Barishal-Dhaka launch route were supposed to increase by 60 percent. But much like the overcharging going on in land, passengers of the waterways say they are being charged at least twice the usual fare on the route.
Passengers say they are even more frustrated because while the fare has been ramped up, the launches are not complying with other pandemic protocols, like carrying no more than half their seating capacity and providing hand sanitiser at the entrance.
After visiting the Barishal River Port yesterday, this correspondent found that though launches were boarding passengers up to at least 80-85 percent of their capacity, there was no one from the authorities concerned of the government to check on that.
This means while passengers are paying more, they are actually travelling at great risk. Due to this, the launches have become host to endless altercations between passengers and staffers over the last few days, port sources told this correspondent.
However, launch owners are justifying the fare situation through an earlier confusion over pricing on the route.
Saidur Rahman Rintu, owner of the Sundarbans Launch Company and vice-president of Launch Owners Association, said though passengers were charged Tk 200 on a one-way journey during regular times following a decision taken by the launch owners around two years back, the official fare was actually Tk 250.
Adding Tk 150 as sixty percent of Tk 250, the fare now stands at Tk 400, Rintu said. "But since customers were used to paying Tk 200, they're seeing it as a doubling of regular ticket price," he added.
But this reasoning is not sitting well with passengers, for whom the burden of the increased fare is too much.
Talking to this correspondent, a regular passenger of the route said he feels overwhelmed to have to pay Tk 400 on a single journey, that too when he has to travel at great risk since the launch owners are not cutting down on the number of passengers or providing sanitiser, temperature checks or any other hygiene requirements.
Like him, a female RMG worker travelling from Barishal to Dhaka also told this correspondent of her suffering. "It used to cost Tk 800 to make the journey with a family of four. It's now Tk 1,600. Our limited income during the pandemic simply cannot afford it anymore."
Contacted, Mostafizur Rahman, Barishal River Port officer, said while they understand the situation and are planning to talk to owners about fixing the fare at around Tk 320, they cannot take action against the owners since they are only charging according to the previous official fare of Tk 250.
However, owners will be penalised for boarding additional passengers, he added.
According to port sources, at least six to eight passenger launches run daily on the Barishal-Dhaka route during regular times., carrying three to four thousand people on seats, cabins, and decks.