Road Transport: Operators place flurry of demands

Leaders of road transport associations yesterday demanded the government increase bus fares and give them financial benefits as their businesses were "hit hard by the pandemic". They raised the demands at the 28th meeting of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) at the head office of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), meeting sources said. The leaders also got into a verbal spat with Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), over the lease of city bus terminals.

Meanwhile, the closed-door meeting, chaired by Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, also the NRSC president, formed two committees to deal with two issues. One committee will scrutinise and finalise the draft of National Road Safety Strategic Action Plan-2021-2024 while the other will work on how to implement recommendations made by another committee to regulate small vehicles, including easy bikes. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, chiefs of different government agencies concerned, and transport leaders and experts took part in the meeting in person and virtually.

Khondaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, said many decisions were made to control three-wheelers on highways but those were yet to be implemented. Referring to the Covid-19 situation, he said all the sectors got financial benefits from the government, but the transport sector was deprived of any incentives. Prices of every material required for operating a vehicle have "increased by 40 to 50 percent in the last seven years" but the bus fare was not increased during the same period.

A decision was made in 2019 to increase the fare, but it was not raised, Enayet said. "We are requesting you [authorities] to take steps for increasing the bus fare immediately," a meeting participant told this newspaper quoting Enayet as saying. None from the authorities, however, responded to demands from the transport association leaders.

The demands come two weeks after a government-formed committee proposed fixing the bus fare on the Ghatarchar-Kanchpur Bridge route at Tk 2.2 per kilometre. A single transport company will operate all the buses on the route on a pilot basis from April 1. The proposed bus fare is almost 30 percent higher than the current fares in Dhaka city.

Romesh Chandra Ghosh, chairman of Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners' Association, told the meeting that they sought some financial benefits from the authorities, including waiver of loan interest during the pandemic period, but no action was taken in this regard. Nazrul Islam, secretary of the Road Transport and Highways Division, said the petition was forwarded to the finance ministry, which sent it to the governor of Bangladesh Bank.

VERBAL SPAT WITH TAPOSH

Speaking at the meeting, Enayet said the two Dhaka city corporations have leased out bus terminals to private operators, but in many cases staffers of the lessees go out on the streets and collect money from vehicles, causing problems. Osman Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, also talked about the lease issue.

After Enayet's speech, the DSCC mayor spoke on haphazard parking of vehicles by transport operators. He said they also came to know about some allegations regarding the lease issue from media reports. "But, I am asking you to be careful about what you say," a meeting participants told The Daily Star quoting Taposh.

As Osman tried to say something about the issues, the mayor said, "You are speaking on irrelevant issues. We will take steps if there is any problem regarding the lease." At that state, Secretary Nazrul Islam told Osman that those were not the issues to be discussed in this meeting.

TWO COMMITTEES

The BRTA, taking opinions from the agencies concerned, has prepared the draft National Road Safety Strategic Action Plan-2021-2024 as the tenure of the previous one has expired.

Under the draft action plan, the authorities want to reduce 20 to 25 percent of road accident fatalities and injuries by the end of 2024 and 50 percent by 2030. Yesterday's meeting formed a committee to examine and finalise the draft within one month. The committee, led by Abu Sayed Sheikh, additional secretary of Road Transport and Highways Division, will have six other members, including the BRTA chairman.

The meeting set up another committee, led by the BRTA chairman, to work on how to implement recommendations made by another committee to regulate small vehicles, including easy bikes.

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