Dhaka Nagar Paribahan, a franchise-based bus service to bring order to the chaotic public transport sector in the capital, has faced a series of hurdles since its launch more than one year ago. Opposition from owners of services under the old system has remained one of the greatest obstacles for the new service to succeed.
Nagar Paribahan was expected to end reckless driving in a race for more passengers, stopping anywhere to pick up and drop off travellers and operating services with buses in poor condition – key factors behind notorious gridlocks in the city.
Passengers are now forced to take unfit and unauthorised buses as the owners have brought the vehicles from other routes without permission.
The franchise-based system, which strictly follows the rules, is struggling to compete with the unfit, unauthorised buses run under the old ‘no rules’ system.
Many bus owners pulled out from the new platform after facing losses. Others who decided to stay away from the new service continued business individually and called for the intervention of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to let them operate buses on Nagar Paribahan routes.
Commuters using Nagar Paribahan on Ghatarchar-Kanchpur, the first route of the new service launched in December 2021, lauded the franchise-based system. To bring comfort to more travellers, Nagar Paribahan has expanded its services to three more routes where around 30,000 commuters are using the new service.
The service has racked up over Tk 70 million until Feb 6, according to the Bus Route Rationalisation Committee.
Passengers, however, are concerned over the ability of Nagar Paribahan to survive the uneven competition created by the old buses.
Bus owners and workers said these buses pick up and drop passengers between stations while blocking space for Nagar Paribahan buses to move ahead and, in the process, compounding the losses for Nagar Paribahan. Their reckless driving hampers the new service, said Ashique Rahman, a Nagar Paribahan bus driver.
Some in the public transport sector see efforts to keep the new service from achieving the desired success.
Experts say the political will is necessary to end the chaos in the sector.
Sabiha Parveen, executive director of Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority and member secretary of the Bus Route Rationalisation Committee, said mobile courts were deployed to prevent buses from operating on the Nagar Paribahan routes without a permit.
“I can’t do anything if they [owners of old buses] face any problems due to Nagar Paribahan. We’re trying to work with those operating services following the rules,” said Parveen.
Khandaker Enayet Ullah, the secretary general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, claimed route rationalisation was not being worked out properly now. “Not even 100 buses were added to the service this year.”
“We have no problem if the authorities replace old buses with new ones. But they should decide first what to do with the old buses. Blocking private services and then keeping them idle is a poor move. We want them not to bar our buses from running.”
As the problems have lingered, Dhaka South Mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, who leads the route rationalisation panel, vowed to tackle all the challenges in Nagar Paribahan and bring order to the city’s public transport sector.
At a meeting of the committee on Mar 1, he said a “quarter with vested interests” was responsible for the challenges facing the new service. He did not specify who were behind the problems in Nagar Paribahan.
FLURRY OF UNFIT AND UNAUTHORISED TRANSPORT
According to the route rationalisation committee, Nagar Paribahan has 150 buses on routes No. 21, 22 and 26 and is expected to add another 50 buses to Ghatarchar and Uttara Diabari routes in five months.
Other companies, including Glory, Moumita, Ashian, Green Bangla, Swadhin, Avinandan, Paristan, Projapoti, Ananda, Borak, Aldi, Raida, Malancha, Midline, Midway and No. 13 also operate on these three routes.
Ashian, Green Bangla, Avinandan, Ananda and Aldi are not on the Regional Transport Committee list of authorised services in Dhaka. There are no records of how many buses these companies operate.
The 11 other companies have 1,018 buses on the Nagar Paribahan routes. They are using 406 of 540 buses with route permits and 311 that have permits to operate on other routes.
But 214 buses have no route permits, and 87 others lack fitness, according to an RTC list.
A DTCA official involved in the management of Nagar Paribahan said the number of buses lacking permits is higher than what the authorities think.
Another official of the agency who also asked not to be named said they were facing challenges in preventing illegal buses from running on the Nagar Paribahan routes.
The authorities deployed mobile courts to remove unauthorised buses from the routes, angering the transport workers and owners, who sent a letter to Hasina calling for her intervention.
Taposh and his counterpart Atiqul Islam in the north held two meetings to settle the issues.
‘UNFIT’ FOR NAGAR PARIBAHAN
Nagar Paribahan does not allow buses manufactured before 2019 in its fleet, which is a key reason why the owners of the old buses are refusing to join the new system.
They have opted to continue service with the old buses, sometimes flouting rules, said a bus owner.
Professor Shamsul Haque, a former director of the Accident Research Institute at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said the franchise-based system is for “gentle people”, but the residents of Dhaka have become used to the old, disorderly services.
“If they can stop a bus anywhere just by raising a hand, they won’t bother to go to the passenger sheds of Nagar Paribahan.”
This trend stopped investors from giving buses to Nagar Paribahan because they fear the service will fail, Prof Shamsul said.
BUS OWNERS’ CLAIMS
In the letter to Hasina, owners claimed that the authorities were barring their buses and stopped giving permits in the name of “route rationalisation”.
Enayet Ullah said they simply wanted to run their services “as they did before.”
He claimed they were suffering because the public transport business in Dhaka is “unprofitable” due to traffic jams.
“It is difficult to make two trips in a day because buses can move at only 6 kilometres an hour.
The owners have no interest in route rationalisation. No one wants to invest because there is no profit. Advertisements calling for buses for route rationalisation did not work.”
Prof Shamsul, who worked on metro rail and Nagar Paribahan, thinks efforts to implement franchise-based service keeping the existing system intact, will not bring discipline. He advised keeping a single bus service for each route.
He believes Dhaka’s transport system will change drastically if the new system can be launched in the entire city.
He said the bus owners’ association opposed the Nagar Paribahan system out of fear of losing political power they use for personal gains as only a few companies will run the services once the routes are rationalised.
“But they [association leaders and members] want thousands of owners to hold positions. If they lose their positions, they will lose their power.”
He suggested a political solution to end the crisis.
“The government has to tell the owners: ‘We are grateful for your service. But you must now leave and we will provide compensation.’ The decision must be taken at the highest level, or it won’t work.”
NAGAR PARIBAHAN TRIPS
Nagar Paribahan buses stop at the Bosila counter en route to Mohammadpur from Ghatarchar while the others pick up passengers wherever a traveller signals to stop.
The Mohammadpur counter of the new service is at a distance from the intersection, where the other buses pick up passengers.
On the afternoon of Mar 6, a Midway Paribahan bus was trying to lure passengers from the Nagar Paribahan counter.
Abdul Khaleq, who sells tickets at the counter, said the workers of the old buses often do this.
“They have no counters, so they simply pick up passengers at the intersection on their way up and again stop there on their way down. We fought over this a couple of times, but it was of no use.”
“Commuting by Nagar Paribahan buses is very comforting. But there are fewer buses. More buses are needed to replace the old company buses automatically,” Rokon Bhuiyan, a Motijheel-bound passenger, said.
“The buses of private companies are very old, dirty and dilapidated.”
[Writing in English by Syed Mahmud Onindo]