The government is going to significantly raise bus fares, making travelling costlier for people already struggling with unemployment and reduced income amid the coronavirus outbreak.
A committee yesterday recommended an 80 percent hike in the fares because maintaining proper distance among passengers would reduce a bus's capacity to 50 percent of normal levels.
"We will send our recommendations to the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges for approval. They will decide," said Yousub Ali Mollah, acting chairman of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority.
The new fares will be a major blow for people struggling amid the shutdown since March 26, economists and passengers' rights activists said.
Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity yesterday urged the government to give incentives to transport companies to keep travelling costs stable.
80 PERCENT HIKE
On Friday, a meeting decided that buses will carry 50 percent of normal level passengers when the services resume from tomorrow.
Transport associations then demanded that the fares be doubled.
The special committee to fix bus fares yesterday held a meeting at BRTA head office in the capital, which was attended by representatives of transport owners and workers, Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC), and Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA).
"We have recommended raising bus fares by 80 percent," Yousub told The Daily Star.
If approved by the ministry, the new fares would be applicable during the Covid-19 crisis only,he added.
"Although we will have 50 percent passengers, the operational costs will remain unchanged. Besides, we will have to spend an additional about Tk 1,000 on health safety and disinfecting procedures after every trip," said Abul Kalam, vice-president of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, after the meeting.
The government last fixed inter-district bus fares in May 2016 at the rate of Tk 0.42 for each kilometre.
With the new hike, the cost of travelling from the capital's Gabtali to Barishal through Faridpur would be Tk 789, excluding tolls. Before the shutdown, it cost only Tk 438, excluding tolls.
Within Dhaka city, bus fare was last fixed in September 2015 at the rate of Tk 1.70 per km. If the new rate comes into effect, the fare from Mirpur Zoo to Notre Dame College would be Tk 60 which was Tk 33 as per existing rate.
BURDEN ON PEOPLE
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director at Centre for Policy Dialogue, said, "There is a shortage of public transport. The decision to keep 50 percent of the seats vacant…would be very difficult to enforce."
He added that the 80 percent hike would be a major burden for common people.
At least two of the stimulus packages announced by the government were related to the transport sector. The companies can take advantage of those packages, he said.
Bus companies should try to keep the operational costs at a low level and make very little profit during the crisis, he said, adding that if necessary, they can ask for more stimulus packages.
"Common people should not be made the victim to provide benefits to the bus operators," he told The Daily Star.
AIR PASSENGERS TO PAY MORE
The time has come to say goodbye to budget air travel as airlines will have to keep almost half the seats empty, said officials at different airlines and the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB).
According to CAAB guideline, the airlines must keep at least 30 percent of the seats empty on every flight to ensure social distancing. There will be an empty seat between every two passengers unless they are from the same family.
But officials at different airlines said they will have to keep at least 50 percent of the seats vacant to follow the guidelines.
Passengers will have to pay an additional Tk 300 to Tk 500 to fly on Dhaka-Sylhet, Dhaka-Chattogram and Dhaka-Saidpur routes, they added.
Kamrul Islam, general manager of public relations at US-Bangla Airlines, said in a 76-seat Dash-8Q 400, they will have to keep 38 seats empty and for an 72-seat ATR, they will have to keep 36 vacant.
Sources at different airlines said passengers would have to pay Tk 3,000 to Tk 3,200 for a ticket to Chattogram, Sylhet and Saidpur from Dhaka. The rates were between Tk 2,500 and Tk 2,700 before the pandemic.
The government on Thursday decided to resume flight operations on a limited scale from Dhaka to the three destinations from today.
Consumers Association of Bangladesh in a statement termed the proposed bus fare hike "unacceptable" and urged the government to refrain from such a move.
Its President Golam Rahman said the general public should not have to compensate for the losses incurred by transport companies.
The government should announce stimulus packages, or subsidise the sector, the statement said, adding that fuel prices should be lowered.