Public transport cannot be held hostage
It is hardly believable from the current state of affairs on our roads that we're going through a still-raging pandemic. As the country witnesses yet another surge in Covid-19 cases, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) has informed us that the government retreated from its earlier decision to run public transport at half capacity. We cannot help but note the apparent disregard for public opinion and safety in the "ministry concerned" verbally telling the BRTA that buses can now run at full capacity, before informing the public—who would be most affected by this decision—about it. Although one official from the Dhaka Road Transport Owners' Association (DRTOA) refuted the allegation that the government made this move under pressure from transport associations, we find it hard to believe, especially given how it frequently bowed to lobbying from the transport sector in the past.
As this daily has reported, in the last 30 days, the government has made at least three decisions as per the demands of transport associations, mostly led by influential and politically connected people. Just last week, the authorities, under pressure from transport associations, waived fines for drivers who fail to renew their documents on time. Consider how the implementation of the Road Transport Act, 2018 has been delayed frequently, and how much it has been modified to suit the demands of transport owners and workers. The question is: Whom do the authorities serve—the public or the influential transport associations? An argument has been made by officials that there would have been a crisis of transport if buses operated at half capacity while all institutions remained fully open. If this is the case, we wonder why the government had not thought of this possibility before announcing its initial instruction to transport associations.
It is truly disconcerting to see the government bending so easily and frequently to demands made by transport organisations, with no regard for how it affects the public or what message it conveys to them. We urge the government to come up with coherent plans for public transport, keeping in mind the need to curb the surge of Covid-19 cases and to avoid another full lockdown. The goal must be to reduce the rising number of cases, while implementing a system of transportation that sits well with other regulations.