"Where will you go? Up to the [Paturia ferry] ghat or further?" "Do you need a car or a microbus?" "You can go alone or share it with other passengers."
Transport workers and car rental service providers hurled such queries and "offers" at Eid holidaymakers who poured into Gabtoli bus terminal to leave the city yesterday, the last weekend before the festival.
The government suspended inter-district public transport and asked all to stay at their present location to check the spread of Covid-19, but the move hardly stopped desperate home-goers from taking the journey. They left the capital by any means, oblivious to maintaining physical distancing.
The ferry terminals at Shimulia and Paturia continued to see heavy rush of passengers. In fact, the rush got so big that some ferries even had to carry only people, leaving vehicles behind.
All these fueled the fear of experts who warned that the Covid-19 situation in the country, which is battling the second wave of the pandemic, could worsen if the health safety rules were not followed properly.
Eid will be celebrated in around a week.
Yesterday, homebound people thronged the capital's inter-district bus terminals in Gabtoli and Sayedabad. Those who could afford left the city by renting cars and microbuses. Others changed vehicles at multiple places and advanced towards their destinations.
Buses are running only inside districts.
Low-income people boarded local transport like human haulier and CNG-run three wheelers to reach the ferry ghats after leaving the exit points of the city.
This cost them more money and time.
Shihab Uddin, 20, along with four other construction workers, came to the capital from Chattogram's Patenga by renting a car for Tk 5,000. At Gabtoli, they were looking for a ride to go home in Jashore.
There, transport workers gave them two options: either hire a car for Tk 10,000 or pay Tk 1,500 per person.
"We have only Tk 3,000 left with us. So we have to go to the ferry ghat somehow and cross the Padma river. From there, we will go to our destination by changing buses," Shihab told The Daily Star yesterday.
Like them, people in their hundreds were seen waiting for transport to reach the country's northern and southwestern districts.
Transport workers were busy negotiating the fares with them.
Talking to this newspaper, many passengers said they were being charged almost double the usual bus fare.
For Jashore or Magura, transport workers were asking for Tk 1,500-2,000 from each person. A car bound to Paturia ferry ghat was asking for Tk 500 from each passenger.
Inside the vehicle, maintaining physical distance was a far cry. People sat in close proximity.
"My family lives in Satkhira and it will be extremely difficult for me to stay here alone during the Eid. So I along with two of my friends rented a car and we are going to my home via the Mawa ghat," said Sirajul Alam, a private firm employee, at Gabtoli.
Many passengers were found sharing CNG auto-rickshaw and riding motorbikes from Gabtoli. CNG drivers said that they were charging Tk 300 from each passenger to take them to the Paturia ghat while the bikers said that they would go up to Chandra, Paturia ghat or Mawa.
Some passengers went to Amin Bazar and Hemayetpur by these vehicles and then took buses in phases to go to the Paturia ghat via Shingair and Manikganj.
Police set up check posts on key highways to enforce the Covid-19 restrictions, but failed to stop the rush of home-goers. To dodge the law enforcers, many even opted to start their journey just after taking Sehri early in the morning.
Some transport workers alleged that they bribe police Tk 200 for each car. Whoever does not pay is caught and fined by the law enforcers. This newspaper, however, could not verify it.
Not maintaining physical distancing, people were seen leaving in microbuses and pickups on the Dhaka-Chattogram and the Dhaka-Sylhet highways, our correspondents reported.
Visiting the Signboard and Shimrail intersections in Narayanganj Sadar upazila from 10:00am to 1:00pm yesterday, our Narayanganj correspondent found that some transport workers set up illegal ticket counters under the sheds of different bus services and took passengers one by one into microbuses.
At least 10 to 12 passengers in each microbus were seen leaving for their destinations in Chattogram, Cumilla and Chandpur. Policemen in the nearby traffic police box took no action at that time.
The fare for Chattogram was Tk 1,000, for Comilla Tk 500 and for Chandpur Tk 800-1,000 per person.
Jalal Mia, who boarded a microbus for Chattogram, said, "Despite all the fear over the Covid-19 and the transport ban on long-haul buses, I have to go to my family. I could not be with them during the last two Eid due to the coronavirus."
He said he paid Tk 1,000, whereas the bus fare would be Tk 400.
Meanwhile, sources said traffic police at Signboard and Shimrail fined at least 25 cars and microbuses from 8:00am to 1:00pm yesterday for violating the health safety rules.
RENTAL SERVICE PEAKED
Since the government imposed restrictions on public buses, demand for rental cars and microbuses has risen sharply. The vehicles are being operated on rent day and night.
Many rental car service providers are posting ads on Facebook to draw the attention of homebound people. Some were even giving "Eid discounts".
"AC Private Car Service from Dhaka to any district, contact us. We will also manage the movement pass," reads a Facebook post by one Razia Rent-a-Car.
Another one, Pacific Rent-a-Car, posted on social media that they would give a special discount ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr.
Many passengers, however, said they were paying extra.
Four students of a public university at Dhaka, who went to Gaibandha yesterday from the capital, told The Daily Star that they hired a four-seater for Tk 10,000 for a one-way journey. Previously, the rent was Tk 7,000
RUSH AT FERRY TERMINALS
Ferry services at the Shimulia-Kathalbari and the Paturia-Dauladia routes experienced huge pressure of passengers and it is likely to increase even more in the coming days.
Due to the holiday yesterday, the rush increased manifold at the Paturia ferry terminal in Manikganj, the gateway to 21 districts in the southern part of the country.
Zillur Rahman, deputy general manager of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority's (BIWTA) Aricha office said out of 16 ferries, three were plying the Paturia-Daulatdia route.
Some 300 hundred vehicles, both small and big, are waiting to cross the river, the official added, while talking to this newspaper yesterday evening.
But the crowd of people was even higher on the Munshiganj's Shimulia ferry terminal as launches and speedboats were not allowed to operate after the speedboat accident in Madaripur's Shibchar recently, said BIWTC officials.
Unable to cope with the huge rush, some ferries departed without taking a single vehicle on board. As a result, over a thousand freight and private vehicles got stuck, reported our correspondent.
Safayat Ahmed, manager (commerce) of BIWTC at Shimulia ferry terminal, told The Daily Star that three of the 16 ferries on the Shimulia-Banglabazar route were out of work, so it has been difficult to cope with the crowds with only 13 ferries running.