With buses set to hit the roads from Monday, transport owners have started asking for permission to double the fares, because the vehicles would carry fewer passengers to prevent coronavirus transmission.
A top leader of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association placed the proposal at a meeting with officials at BRTA head office in the capital yesterday, over two months after public transport was suspended.
The new fares would be decided today by a committee led by the chairman of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) at another meeting, according to Nazrul Islam, secretary of Road Transport and Bridges Division.
Yesterday's meeting presided over by Nazrul and attended by transport association leaders, and police and other officials, happened a day after the government announced that transport services would resume from May 31 on a limited scale in adherence to health guidelines.
The demand for raising travelling costs comes at a time when income of many people has dramatically reduced due to the shutdown of the economy on March 26 to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity yesterday urged the government to cut fuel prices instead of allowing transport companies to charge more.
It pointed out that oil prices fell in the international market, and stopping extortion in the sector would save operational costs.
The passenger welfare organisation in a statement said thousands have become unemployed and hiked costs would 'rub salt on the wound".
BUS OWNERS FOR DOUBLING FARE
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader joined the meeting using video conference and said transport services must follow the health guidelines and maintain social distance among the people onboard.
No standing passengers would be allowed, 25 to 30 percent seats must be empty, everyone must wear a mask, and the vehicles have to be disinfected before starting and after ending a journey, the minister said.
He also added that there should be hand washing facilities at all bus terminals and people should not be picked up in the middle of the journey.
"There is a committee of the BRTA to fix fare. It [the committee] would fix a rational fare after discussions with you [owners]," said Quader, also the general secretary of the ruling Awami League.
Khondaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, said maintaining social distance between passengers would reduce a bus's capacity to 50 percent of normal levels.
"In that case, bus fares have to be double," a participant of the meeting quoted Enayet as saying.
After the meeting, Eanyet Ullah told The Daily Star that they will resume operation of buses from Monday across the country.
City services, inter-district services and even the ones within the districts would resume.
However, the number of buses on the roads will increase gradually, he said and each bus will carry about half of its capacity, he said.
"We requested permission to increase fare. Decisions would be taken in this regard tomorrow."
Secretary Nazrul Islam told reporters that there would be a team at each bus terminal to check whether all precautionary measures have been taken.
About the transport leaders' demand for tax cut on the vehicles, Nazrul Islam said they would decide after talking with finance ministry offisicals.
LAUNCH AND TRAIN OPERATION TO RESUME SUNDAY
The decision came at a meeting of launch owners and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority Chairman Commodore Golam Sadeq . The meeting was attended, among others, by police and coast guard officials.
The meeting decided to install disinfectant tunnels at all launch terminals and launch authorities would check the temperature of passengers.
Following the demand of launch owners to increase fare, the meeting decided to observe the situation for 10 days. Currently, launch owners would operate launches following the previous fares.
Md Shamsuzzaman, director general of Bangladesh Railway, yesterday said they would start selling train tickets from afternoon today.
He said they would resume operation of only intercity trains on Sunday, that too on a limited scale. "The number of trains would be small and we would sell 50 percent of the tickets for each train to ensure social distancing."
No AC coach would be operational as per the DGHS guidelines, he added.