- Almost all buses, minibuses charging exorbitant fares
- Gas-run buses increase price by 200% despite no cost hike
- Cost of transporting goods goes up by 70p per kg on average
- Commodity price rises by Tk3-10
- 14-72% more fare for long distances
The home ministry, in a recent report showing a spiralling rise in fares in the transport sector, said that anger and resentment prevailed among people over the arbitrary increase in fares by bus and truck owners after the increase in diesel prices.
The ministry's Public Security Division sent a report to the Road Transport and Highways Department, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Industries and Ministry of Shipping on December 1 stating that if the bus fares fixed by the government in consultation with all parties are not implemented, the chaos in the transport sector will increase.
The report said, "Almost all buses and minibuses, irrespective of the fuel used, are charging exorbitant fares," adding that this is having a negative impact on passengers.
Highlighting how the arbitrary increase in fares had also resulted in clashes between transport workers and students and passengers, leading to blockades and transport operations' suspension, the home ministry said, "If the government-fixed fares are not implemented, the chaos in the transport sector will increase."
Furthermore, according to the report, as there was no practice of fixing fares for trucks, covered vans, lorries and prime movers engaged in transporting goods, owners have hiked the fares at their own will. This has increased the cost of transporting goods and affected the market for various products, with prices of essential commodities, including vegetables, having already risen sharply.
It said this situation in the public transport and freight sector had led to questions over the government's success in controlling prices in the commodity market and tarnished its image.
Furthermore, after the increase in the price of diesel, buses plying different routes in the capital are charging passengers up to double the fare fixed by the government.
Various companies, including Hanif, Shyamoli and ENA Paribahan, operating on long-distance routes from Dhaka are also charging passengers fares which are 14%-72% more than that fixed by the government.
The report also mentioned that of the 78,000 buses plying across the country, 46,800, or 60%, are gas-run. Of these, there are 12,526 operating in Dhaka, 11,900, or 95%, of which are run on gas.
Although only 626 buses run on diesel in Dhaka, on November 3, after the government increased the price of diesel, gas-powered buses also stopped operating. This led to a scarcity of public transport in the capital, leaving the passenger in dire straits.
The report said, "Drivers, contractors and helpers collect extra fares from passengers to meet the cost of owners' daily deposits and tolls, increasing overall incomes."
On the other hand, owners have to spend a significant portion of their income on regular payments to various organisations, including the owners' association and the city corporation.
This was not a picture of Dhaka only, but was noticeable across the country, the report added.
Analysing data on truck fare hike to Dhaka from major ports, including the country's main seaport in Chattogram and Benapole land port, the home ministry report said, "On average, the cost of transporting goods has gone up by 70 paisa per kg, but the price of goods has already gone up by Tk3-10 per kg on the pretext of fare hike."
To rein in the situation, the home ministry recommended that the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) fix the fares of trucks, covered vans, tank lorries and other prime movers in line with the increase in diesel prices.
In addition, the ministry has agreed to reschedule the BRTA annual contract freight rates in consultation with concerned business associations including FBCCI, BGMEA, BKMEA and BTMS.
Bangladesh Passenger Welfare Association Secretary General Mozammel Haque said the current leadership of the transport sector was holding the people hostage and taking advantage of the government in various ways. Despite repeated announcements on fares, buses in the capital continue to charge people three to four times higher than the fixed charges without stopping the anarchy in the name of seating service.
He said a change in the transport sector's leadership was necessary to bring about a positive change.
BRTA spokesperson Mahbub A Rabbani told The Business Standard, "We know about the high fares in Dhaka. That is why mobile courts are being conducted. Even today, nine mobile courts are working in different parts of Dhaka. As long as the rescheduled fare is not implemented, mobile court operations will continue."
He, however, claimed that the allegation of overcharging for long-distance buses was not correct in all cases. "Many calculate the fare according to the kilometres travelled. Toll and ferry fares are also added to different fares. Moreover, long-distance buses had 52 seats, which was reduced to 40 seats. This resulted in a hike in fares," he said.
On the ministry's report, Mahbub said they had not received it yet. He, however, said the ministry could not have made a mistake. "Of course, the ministry has a responsibility to prevent irregularities. We have a meeting with them on Sunday," he said.
Gas-powered bus fares increase in Dhaka
Before the diesel price hike, bus fares in Dhaka and Chittagong were Tk1.70 per km and minibus fares were Tk1.60, regardless of the fuel used. At the time, the minimum fare was fixed at Tk7 for buses and Tk5 for minibuses.
After the increase in diesel price on 3 November, the minimum fare for gas-run buses and minibuses remained unchanged, while the minimum fare for diesel-powered buses and minibuses increased to Tk2.15 per km and Tk2.05 per km.
At the same time, the minimum fare for buses and minibuses was increased to Tk10 and Tk8.
Despite this, gas-run buses and minibuses hiked their fares arbitrarily, with some charging 200% more than before.
For instance, the distance from North Badda of the capital to Rampura Bazar is 3km. The minibuses of gas-powered Turag Paribahan are charging Tk15 from passengers on this route. But at the rate of 1.70 paisa per km fixed by the government, the fare should be Tk5. Turag Paribahan, thus, is charging about 200 times more than the fixed fare, according to the report by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Similarly, gas-run Victor Paribahan buses are charging Tk50 instead of the actual fare of Tk26 for the 7km journey from Gulistan to Badda, which is about 92% more. Bihang Paribahan, which plies the 18km Gulistan-Mirpur route, is also charging Tk50 instead of Tk31.
Gas-run buses and minibuses plying between Dhaka, Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Narsingdi, Gazipur and Manikganj are supposed to charge Tk1.60 per km, but they refuse to do so.
After the 23% increase in the price of diesel, transport owners agreed to increase bus fare by 28%, but those diesel-powered buses in Dhaka are also charging more than the fixed fare, the home ministry said.
The fare for the 17.5km journey from Malibagh to Abdullahpur at the rate of Tk2.15 is Tk38, but Balaka Paribahan is charging Tk45 from passengers on this route.
Similarly, Ajmeri Paribahan is charging an additional fare of Tk26, which is Tk 4.50 more than the fixed fare.
14-72% more fare for long-distance
The Dhaka-Cumilla route is 95km. The BRTA has fixed the fare at Rs 1.80 per km for diesel buses on long-distance routes. As per this, the fare for buses on the route should be Tk175 per passenger, but buses of Tisha, Asia Line and Asia Transport are charging Tk250-300, registering a 43-72% increase.
Similarly, Hanif, Shyamoli and Ena Paribahan buses plying regularly on the 316km Dhaka-Cox's Bazar route are charging Tk950-1000. According to the government rate, the fare should be Tk715.
The Ministry of Home Affairs also said that the 242km Dhaka-Chattogram route is supposed to cost Tk440, but the transport companies are charging Tk580.
Against this backdrop, the home ministry has recommended monitoring the type of fuel used by buses or minibuses on certain routes and ensuring that they are charging accordingly.
Freight fares rise
Neither the BRTA nor any other government agency fixes truck fares, which results in truck owners setting their own fares. This did not change even when diesel prices increased.
Trucks, covered vans, tankers and prime movers went on an unannounced strike with bus and launch owners after diesel prices rose.
A meeting of transport owners with ready-made garment exporters at the Ministry of Home Affairs to determine freight rates has ended without a definite decision.
After the strike was called off following a meeting with the home minister at the Secretariat on November 8, the owners increased their fare arbitrarily.
The fare of a five-tonne truck from Chattogram, the main seaport of the country, to Dhaka was Tk13,000 before. This has now increased by 54% to Tk20,000. After the increase in the price of diesel, the cost of transporting goods on this route has increased by Tk1.40 per kg.
The fare of a five tonne truck from Benapole, the mainland port of the country, to Dhaka used to be Tk19,000, but it, too, increased by 27% to Tk23,000. The cost of transporting per kg on this route rose by 80 paisa.
Bogra district in the north provides a huge supply of vegetables to the capital. Before the diesel price hike, the fare for a five-tonne truck in the Dhaka-Bogra route was Tk12,500, which has now increased to Tk16,000.
Similar hikes could be seen for transport through Teknaf land port, on the Dhaka-Sylhet route and elsewhere.