Only 50% of public transport is resuming on all routes with permission to carry passengers at full capacity from Wednesday even as Covid-19 continues to take a heavy toll on people's lives with the highest 264 deaths reported on Tuesday.
However, halving the number of public buses has raised debates as bus owners, staffers and the regulatory body have no clear idea about who will segregate the half of the vehicles because no one has any data on how many buses currently ply roads.
Besides, there are no specific instructions on who will monitor whether buses are running in compliance with the government directive.
Bangladesh for the second day reported 264 daily deaths from Covid-19 on Tuesday, which is the highest number of casualties the country reported in a day. With over 200 single-day deaths having been reported for the last 17 days, the death tally crossed the 23,000-mark in the country. The number of daily confirmed cases was 11,164 in the last 24 hours, which took the case tally to 1376,322.
In the meantime, in line with the cabinet division, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) on Tuesday issued a circular with an instruction that only half of public transport will be allowed to operate on roads daily.
As per the BRTA circular, local administration in consultation with agencies concerned will allow the plying of only half of public vehicles on roads per day.
As buses will be allowed to carry passengers with full capacity, original fares will be reinstated, meaning that operators can no longer charge extra 60% fares. Besides, buses cannot carry extra passengers beyond their capacity either, the circular said.
Earlier, the government raised bus fares provided that operators would run at half capacity to maintain social distancing guidelines.
Regarding complying with hygiene rules, the BRTA said passengers, drivers and their assistants and conductors and those involved in ticket sales should wear masks. Necessary hand sanitisers should be kept in buses too.
Moreover, public transport operators must conform to other health guidelines announced by the government. Otherwise, the government will take legal actions against them, it added.
BRTA Chairman Nur Mohammad Mazumder said, "We have published the directives issued by the cabinet division in a little more elaborately. We as a regulatory body request all concerned to abide by them."
Local administration will ensure the operation of half of the vehicles, while law enforcement agencies will ensure the compliance of hygiene rules, he added.
In response to a question, he said, "We do not have any data on the total number of public transport, but we will determine the number of buses on roads every day in consultation with divisional commissioners, deputy commissioners and transport owners and workers."
On the other hand, transport owners and workers have already demanded that the government backtrack on its decision of halving buses on roads per day.
They say it is difficult to implement this decision without knowing the total number of vehicles, which can also create a transport crisis.
Khandaker Enayet Ullah, general secretary of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, said, "As per the government's directive, we have decided to run buses on roads at full capacity by reinstating original fares. Instructions have also been issued to all transport owners of the country, including Dhaka, to take necessary steps to this end."
But, there might be problems in ensuring half of the vehicles on roads as it will be difficult to determine the number of buses that owners have. On the one hand, a big number of transport workers in this way will remain workless, on the other hand, owners will also suffer financial losses, he added.
After prolonged restrictions on vehicular movement amid the pandemic, public buses are resuming operations, but what will be the condition of those who have only a bus where only 50% of vehicles are allowed on roads, he also said.
Enayet Ullah said there will be a transport crisis and passenger pressure will go up too, leading to a further increase in infections.
"So, considering all these aspects, I demand that the government backtrack on its decision and allow the movement of all vehicles," the transport leader also said.
Rakib Mia, a leader of the Saidabad Workers' Union, said transport workers suffered a lot of hardships during the lockdown with no income.
"We were happy to hear that the lockdown is going to be over. But many will be deprived if only 50% of public transport is allowed to operate. Our conditions will get worse," he added.
Safiullah Ahmed, manager of Green Line Paribahan, said, "There was no logic in running half of the transport. There are now not many passengers and we cannot operate all the buses even if we want to."
Meanwhile, trains and launches are also ready to resume operations by carrying passengers at full capacity and charging previous fares.
The government started imposing restrictions from 5 April this year to keep Covid-19 in check. The strict lockdown was imposed from 23 July after Eid-ul-Adha till 5 August, which was later extended to 10 August.
On 8 August, the cabinet division in a circular said the ongoing restrictions on public and vehicular movement would end from 11 August and all offices and shopping malls would reopen on the same day.