Health guidelines are not being followed in public transports in Chattogram, increasing the risk of worsening coronavirus situation.
The government has instructed transport owners and workers to carry passengers half of the vehicle's capacity and to keep one of every two seats vacant to maintain social distance. It has also increased fare 60 percent so that vehicle owners do not incur loss.
The instructions were followed only for around 15 days in Chattogram after it were imposed, said locals.
According to transport leaders, around 1,200 mini buses and 2,000 human hauliers ply on 12 routes in the port city every day.
Passengers and transport workers blame each other for the violation of health rules.
"When the government decided to resume public transports with following health directives, we appreciated the move. Even we also accepted to pay 60 percent additional fare," said Abdus Sattar Roni, general secretary of South Chattogram Passengers' Welfare Association."
"The transport workers followed the rules for two to three weeks and thereafter they started taking passengers like in the past without maintaining physical distance," he said.
Now they take passengers as many as they can with that extra fare, he added.
"The drivers do not start vehicles until all the seats are filled up," he told The Daily Star. "When any passenger protests, they are humiliated by transport workers," Roni said.
Sulata Chowdhury, a resident from Chawkbazar, said she faced such a situation in a bus while she was going to New Market from her residence on Wednesday. "When I protested, they asked me to get down…"
Transport owners and law enforcement agencies especially the traffic department should be held responsible for the situation, she said.
On the other hand, Imran Hossain, line secretary of Chattogram Auto-rickshaw Auto-tempo Workers' Union, blamed the passengers for violating the rules.
"The passengers do not pay heed to our words when we forbid them to board vehicles violating health rules," he said. "Many of them said, 'there is no more coronavirus...'"
When asked why they charge passengers extra then, Imran said they have nothing to do with the fare set by the government in consultation with the owners.
Contacted, Tarun Dasgupta, general secretary of City Bus Owners' Association, Chattogram, admitted that public vehicles were realising extra fare from passengers.
"We instructed the workers to follow health guidelines and not to realise fare more than 60 percent; but in many cases, we get complaints of violation of the instructions," he said.
Contacted, Ilias Kanchan, chairman of Nirapad Sarak Chai, said health guidelines are actually not being maintained in public transports, posing threat to further deterioration of Covid-19 situation.
Mohammad Shahidullah, deputy commissioner (traffic) of Chattogram Metropolitan Police, said they file around 200 cases a day on different routes against the vehicles for violating traffic and health rules.
"Passengers also have to be aware of health guidelines," he said.