With 1,100 new buses and trucks in its fleet and strict monitoring enforced, Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) made profit in the last fiscal year, after losses for three consecutive years, officials say.
But the coronavirus pandemic has served a blow to the state-run transport agency's economic revival plan, reducing its income considerably in recent months.
BRTC earned Tk 204 crore in the first six months of the last fiscal year. But the revenue dropped to Tk 145.27 crore in the last six months, shows BRTC data.
The decrease in revenue in the last half was due to the Covid-19 pandemic, first detected in the country on March 8.
Although BRTC made Tk 24.85 crore as profit in the fiscal year 2019-20, it hadto take Tk 10 crore as loan from the government to meet its expenditure and pending arrears.
Its Tk 57 crore dues -- including arrears and post-retirement benefits of its staffers -- came down to around Tk 40 crore in the last FY, officials said.
The corporation is still struggling to push the income to the desired level as its buses are not carrying capacity passengers to comply with the government's Covid-19 advisory health protocol, they said.
Amjad Hossain, general manager (accounts) of BRTC, said although operation of public transport resumed from June, they are still carrying less passengers than normal time as the government prohibited standing passengers on public transport. "Things may not be normal until educational institutions are opened," he added.
Winter is the peak season for BRTC, when it rents buses to different organisations for picnic trips. But this may not happen this time due to the pandemic, another BRTC official said.
Established in 1961, BRTC provides bus and truck services through its 23 depots across the country. It often made headlines for poor management and corruption.
The government added 600 buses and 500 trucks to the BRTC fleet last year to bail it out from losses. The vehicles were bought through Indian lines of credit.
BRTC now has 1,450 out of its 1,835 buses and 570 out of its 588 trucks in service.
It started to become a losing concern from FY2016-17 when it incurred a loss of Tk 4.73 crore. The loss was 2.92 crore and around Tk 1 crore respectively in the next two fiscal years.
With losses growing, anger and frustration also grew among the workers at different depots of BRTC over unpaid salaries. The unpaid dues soared up to 16 months in some depots till January last year.
Some 3,300 BRTC employees, including drivers, get salaries and other benefits like that of a government employee. But under the current system, the salaries and benefits of a depot employee has to be paid from the earnings of that particular depot.
BRTC staffers staged demonstrations on several occasions last year, even confining the then corporation chairman to his office, to get their arrears. Amid such a restive situation, the government appointed a new chairman in August that year.
At that time, officials of the BRTC said the depots had been struggling to pay the employees after the government implemented a new pay scale in 2016, but workers claimed that the corruption of some BRTC officials, including those running the depots, was to blame for their sufferings.
SOME POSITIVE CHANGES
BRTC Chairman Ehsan-E-Elahi said apart from new vehicles, strict measures, intense monitoring and financial discipline of the depots are also responsible for the boost in earnings.
BRTC earned Tk 349.28 crore in the last fiscal year compared to Tk 258.88 crore in 2018-19 despite the government suspending the operation of public transport for two months from March 26 due to the pandemic, show documents.
It earned only Tk 14.80 crore in April and May against the expenditure of TK 27.41 crore. In these two months, BRTC buses remained off the roads; only its trucks were operational.
At that time, BRTC had to take a Tk 10 crore loan from the government to pay salaries and Eid bonuses, the chairman told this newspaper.
The state-owned company paid Tk 88.65 crore as salary and other allowances in one year, which is Tk 23.27 crore more than the corresponding period of the immediate past year, according to a special bulletin BRTC published in August this year.
Ehsan-E-Elahi said they have taken some strict measures to control some irregularities in depots and have taken actions against more than two dozen staffers.
"We are planning for full automation of the depots and training centres to prevent malpractice fully," he said, adding that they were going for central procurement of tires and batteries soon for the same reason.
He said that BRTC has been making profit for the last three months, adding that if that trend continues, they will be able to pay all the dues sooner rather than later.