The much-hyped Nagar Paribahan is failing to provide expected services to the residents of Dhaka due to a number of issues.
According to people concerned, some transport companies are illegally running buses on the routes designated only for Nagar Paribahan.
Moreover, gridlocks and extortion by some influential people are making things hard for the country's first modern bus service which was introduced recently as a pilot project.
The transport sector insiders said the Dhaka city service could not flourish due to the same issues.
Transport companies like Rajanigandha Paribahan, Avinandan Paribahan, and Somay Paribahan are running buses without permission on the Ghatarchar-Kanchpur route allowed for Nagar Paribahan, according to stakeholders.
The mass transport project started on the route on 26 December last year with 50 buses.
Among the 50 buses, 30 are provided by the state-owned Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) and the rest 20 buses are from a private operator Transilva.
The Road Transport authorities prohibited the plying of buses owned by other companies on this route from 1 January this year, which did not happen in reality.
Chairman of Transilva Paribahan Syed Rezaul Karim said, "The authority is failing to stop the illegal buses that are picking up a chunk of our passengers and harming our income. Besides, those buses are worsening traffic congestion on the route."
"Passengers can get the illegal buses from anywhere on the road just by raising their hands, but ours stop only at the counter or designated place," he added.
"We are now counting losses and failing to maintain buses properly. We had to stop a few buses. Now only eight buses are providing service among twenty," he said, adding that it is not a viable project.
Dhrubo Alam, project director of the Bus Route Rationalization Project said, "We cannot stop the illegal bus for several reasons that include our limitations and lax law enforcement."
He alleged that law enforcement agencies working to regulate traffic are not taking action against the illegal buses. "Even a vested quarter wants chaos on the road to ensure their illegal earning," he said.
The Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA), City Corporation, and Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) conduct drives but cannot do so regularly due to manpower crisis, he added.
Meanwhile, the BRTC is optimistic about the service, though officials acknowledged that the service is yet to become profitable.
"We are running 30 new double-decker buses with 75 seats each. Although a number of seats remain empty, passengers are increasing in number gradually. I hope it will be a popular service in near future," said BRTC Deputy General Manager (operation) Sukdev Dhali.
Commuters satisfied with the service
Commuters using the Nagar Paribahan are happy with disciplined service. They can get on and off at the designated places without any hassle. Passengers can buy tickets at a fixed rate from the counters.
However, some passengers have complained that the buses are often running late. Many have to wait at the counter for a long time after buying tickets.
"The Nagar Paribahan service is very good, especially for women. However, we often have to wait for 20-30 minutes to get on the bus, which is a hurdle during office hours," said one passenger Zerin Islam.
The number of buses in the service should be increased to solve this problem, she added.
When asked about the delay, Mohammad Ali, a driver, said, "Gridlocks are the main cause of the delay. So, increasing the number of buses alone won't help with the delay unless traffic congestion is eradicated."
The reasons why Dhaka city service failed
There was a time when big transport companies such as Shyamoli and Hanif used to provide city services, which no longer exist.
Ramesh Chandra, the owner of the Syamoli Paribahan, said, "I stopped the city service five years ago. There are many reasons for not being able to run the city bus service, which includes lack of infrastructure and traffic congestion."
"Our trip number was cut by more than half because of the traffic jam. In addition, being stuck in gridlock increased our fuel cost. On top of it, we had to face extortions by various people or organisations. In the end, it was very hard for us to get a return on our investments, not to mention any profits," he said.
"Besides, the maintenance cost of our vehicles keeps rising due to bad and bumpy roads. So, the city service has to be shut down for a while," said Ramesh Chandra, also the president of the Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners Association.
He added that many people have tried to provide service in the city with expensive A/C buses but it did not work out due to these problems. As a result, the city transport service is running with broken and dilapidated buses.
"But now the city has a different infrastructure, so we might come into service in the future. The big transport companies will also invest in transport services in Dhaka," he concluded.