Millions stare into the second day without transport as fuel price strike rolls on

An indefinite strike called by transport owners and workers over an increase in fuel prices has left people struggling to get to their destinations in Dhaka.

Masum BillahKamal Talukdar, Obaidur Masum and bdnews24.com
Published : 5 Nov 2021, 06:19 PM
Updated : 5 Nov 2021, 06:19 PM

Goods transport from other districts was almost normal, but traders warned prices may rise as the owners want to raise the fare to cover the fuel cost.

Transport sector leaders vowed to continue the strike at least until Sunday when the authorities sit with the stakeholders to discuss a way out of the crisis.

Although it was Friday, a weekly holiday, many people sought to travel for various reasons.

The absence of public transport took a heavy toll on tens of thousands of students. They struggled to get to the exam centres on time for the admission test of the seven Dhaka University-affiliated colleges and the recruitment tests of two dozen government institutions.

Motorcycles, autorickshaws and rickshaws took advantage of the situation by doubling fares as Dhaka’s roads and thoroughfares were largely devoid of buses.

Many of those who wanted to leave the capital for other districts were stranded. Many others, who were able to arrive from other districts by river transport, paid extra to travel by autorickshaw, rickshaw or motorcycle.

Traffic Police Constable Suruzzaman, who was on duty in Shyamoli, said, “It’s a field day for motorcyclists and autorickshaw drivers. They are asking for as much as they can. Passengers are being forced to pay as they don’t have many other options.”

Dilara Khatun and her family are stranded at Gabtoli as they try to return home to Kushtia after her son’s treatment at a hospital amid a transport strike over a fuel price hike on Friday, Nov 5, 2021. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

Tariqul Islam, a sales employee in a shopping mall in Mirpur-10, had to take a rickshaw to commute to his workplace due to the strike. Now, he has to pay three times the regular fare for the commute.

"I could get to my work by spending Tk 5 only if I took the bus from the Purobi stand. That has not happened. They can't just halt transport services. They should discuss and resolve the issue. Why are they holding us hostage?" a disgruntled Tariqul said.

People were found walking towards their destinations in almost all neighbourhoods. One of them was Sajib, a resident of Mirpur 11. He decided to walk to his destination at ECB Square in the face of the exorbitant transport fares.

Maruf Hossain was heading to Badda to attend a bank recruitment test as he could not find any public transport. Although his exam is scheduled for the evening, Maruf had set off around 11 am to go to his friend's place in Badda to avoid any delay.

INTER-DISTRICT TRAVEL

Dilara Khatun from Kushtia and members of the family came to Dhaka three weeks ago for the treatment of her son for a urinary tract infection. After the hospital in Moghbazar released him on Friday morning, they went to Gulistan by an autorickshaw in the hope of catching a BRTC bus to Gabtoli terminal.

As they failed to catch a bus, they hired another autorickshaw to Gabtoli for Tk 380, much higher than the usual fare. Their miseries reached the peak as there was no bus to Kushtia due to the strike.

“These are meaningless sufferings. How will we get home? Why do we have to suffer all the time?” she asked.

Many other travellers were hiring cars, but Dilara was deterred by safety issues and a huge fare. The car drivers were asking for Tk 400 to Tk 500 per passenger for a ride to Paturia pier. Some buses arrived, but the operators were charging Tk 300 per passenger instead of the usual Tk 100 fare.  

The strike left Dilara and her family stranded at the terminal as they have no place to stay in Dhaka. 

Workers at the ticket counters at Gabtoli and Sayedabad were passing idle time the usual crowd absent.   

Darussalam Road of Dhaka is devoid of buses amid a transport strike over a fuel price hike on Friday, Nov 5, 2021. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

Abdul Momin, an official of SR Travels, said the company was refunding the passengers or deferring the travel.  

Sumon Patwary and his wife arrived at the Sadarghat launch terminal from Chandpur. They fell in trouble as they did not have enough money to pay Tk 800 to Tk 1,000, an exorbitant rate, for an autorickshaw to his brother’s home in Mirpur. “It would have cost the two of us a maximum of Tk 100 to travel to Mirpur had there been a bus,” Sumon said.

The transport strike did not affect the number of launch passengers, said Dinesh Kumar Saha, transport inspector of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority. Twenty launches departed from and 52 others arrived in Sadarghat on Friday, according to him. 

FEARS OF SUPPLY CRUNCH 

The transport strike did not affect Dhaka’s kitchen markets much on the first day. But traders warned of a supply crunch leading to a price spike.

“I was able to bring banana without any trouble. The effects of the strike may be visible tomorrow [Saturday],” said Bashir Ahmed, a trader at Mohammadpur Town Hall Market.   

Partha Saha, a vegetable wholesaler in Mirpur, said the truck with products for him was five hours late due to the strike. He did not raise prices as the truck owner was yet to charge extra. “The driver could not say whether he will be able to transport the goods on Saturday.”

Tushar Imran, the owner of a truck, said he could not make a profit from Saturday’s trip due to the fuel price hike. “I must charge the new rates tomorrow because the fuel price hike has raised the cost per trip by Tk 2,000.”

Fish trader Hanif said prices increased at Karwan Bazar wholesale market, but he could not say whether the transport strike was behind the rise.   

Jasim Uddin, another fish trader, said he raised the price of tilapia fish to Tk 160 from Tk 120 because the cost of transporting the fish from Karwan Bazar almost doubled to Tk 600.  

SUFFERING AT LEAST UNTIL SUNDAY

The government increased the prices of diesel and kerosene by Tk 15 to Tk 80 per litre on Wednesday, citing a volatile global oil market. Transport owners and workers called the indefinite nationwide strike in response, demanding either a rise in fares or a reversal of the 23 percent hike.

Bangladesh Road Transport Authority or BRTA said it will hold a meeting on Sunday to make a decision on the issue. Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader urged transport owners and workers to consider the plight of ordinary people and call off the strike.

Khandaker Enayet Ullah, secretary-general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, said they received an invitation to the BRTA meeting.

“The road transport and bridges minister has urged us to call off the strike. We’ve seen it on TV. But no one spoke to us directly,” he said, declining to accept assurances rather than concrete decisions.

“We can’t call off the strike unless we reach a solution. It is being held in every district. If we drop the issue before any decision, the central committee will no longer have control over it.”

Rakesh Ghosh, a leader of the Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners Association, said the transport strike was not called by the leaders of the central committee, so the matter is not in their hands.

He pointed out that the situation would not have been so dire if BRTA had decided to sit with the owners on Friday. And that would also have calmed the protesters down.

“A decision will be made on Sunday. It would be better if the officials swiftly meet with us on Saturday, rather than considering it a weekly holiday of government offices. It would relieve both the people and the transport owners. But they [BRTA] are not doing that. The matter should not be stretched over two days’ time,” Rakesh added.

Ghulam Rahman, president of the Consumer Association of Bangladesh, said the people suffer no matter what happens, so the issue needs to be resolved earnestly.

“The government should hold a discussion as soon as possible. Officials need to have the strike called off through negotiations or any other means.”

On whether the meeting could be held before Sunday, Nur Mohammad Mazumder, the chairman of BRTA, said it was not feasible as the days were weekly holidays.

“We would’ve called the meeting immediately if it [strike] happened on a weekday. The meeting was scheduled based on everyone’s availability and in agreement.”

“The transport owners have appealed for an increase in fares and we are considering it. That’s why we called the meeting. The committee will set how much the fares will go up.”

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher