Once touted as a game-changer, Nagar Paribahan makes no difference to Dhaka's public transport chaos

It is nothing different from other services, prompting people to think if Dhaka’s buses can ever provide comfort

Obaidur Masum Senior Correspondentbdnews24.com
Published : 27 Jan 2024, 10:08 PM
Updated : 27 Jan 2024, 10:08 PM

Launched with high expectations by Dhaka's two city corporations two years ago, Nagar Paribahan promised to bring order and ease to the chaotic realm of Dhaka’s bus services. It also aimed to eliminate unfair fare practices and ensure buses only stopped at designated stands to drop off or pick up passengers.

However, the initiative faced a setback when private companies pulled out after incurring financial losses, leaving the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) to run these services.

The Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation is operating under the venture just like any other company without following the rules.

It has even reverted to the services on a daily contract basis, previously identified as a key factor for the disarray in the city’s public transport system.

Today, Nagar Paribahan mirrors the same issues plaguing other bus services in the city, leading many to question whether Dhaka's buses will ever achieve the desired level of comfort and order.

Nagar Paribahan began its journey in December 2021 on the route from Keraniganj’s Ghatarchar to Kanchpur in a bid to bring discipline back to public transport management.

For the first few days, the operators followed the rules on picking up passengers from designated spots and charging fares set by the Bangladesh Road Transport Association.

Two more routes were added to the fold and in February last year, the Bus Route Rationalisation Committee vowed to launch new buses in two other routes within the following five months. But, almost a year after that, it has yet to become a reality.

The government promised to shut down other private bus services operating on those routes once Nagar Paribahan was launched, but that never happened.

Instead, Nagar Paribahan started following other bus operators on these routes.

SERVICES SHUTTING DOWN

Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority said it would begin the Nagar Paribahan services with 30 BRTC and 20 Transilva buses on route No. 21 from Ghatarchar to Kanchpur. But only 18 BRTC and 15 Transilva buses joined the service.

Transilva shut down their services under Nagar Paribahan in April-May last year.

On May 9, Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh said Transilva’s route permit was cancelled.

Transilva Chairman Rafiqul Islam Khokan said they suffered losses amounting to over Tk 15 million after operating on the route under Nagar Paribahan for a year and four months.

“We regularly need fuel, operating expenses and staff payments. The money we earned operating under Nagar Paribahan was not enough to pay these expenses,” he said.

The cancellation of the route permit means their income stopped altogether, mounting the losses further, according to him.

BRTC, which was leading the Nagar Paribahan services, was full of mismanagement that caused the losses, Khokan alleged.

The Transilva chairman also said the bus owners sent multiple letters to the Route Rationalisation Committee over the issues, but no steps were taken to resolve them.

“The committee paid no heed to our suggestions, and BRTC was leading the operation. The BRTC, historically, has never been able to properly manage any route. We were barred from doing things our way and eventually became captives to extortionists.”

As many as 50 Hanif Paribahan buses were promised for route No. 22 -- from Ghatarchar to Demra Staff Quarters -- but only 30 were provided. Midway into last year, Hanif Paribahan stopped the services for 15 of the buses and locked them up in its Amin Bazar garage.

On Tuesday, no Hanif Paribahan bus was operating on the route. Its Ghatarchar counter was empty.

BRTC bus workers there said Hanif had shut down operations on the route since before the election.

Sirajul Islam Riku, the managing Director of Hanif’s owner Kafil Uddin Group, said: “The route is bringing them fewer passengers. Also buses have to compete [to pick up passengers]. So it’s not working out for them.”

“On this route, passengers are hard to find after Farmgate. Rerouting via Gulistan would have provided some more passengers. We did propose the matter but to no avail. That’s why we’re suffering losses.”

He claimed that the bus services were not completely shut down. “The buses were brought to the garage for repairs. The vehicles need to be worked on. That’s why we garaged them for now. After it’s done, the 30 buses will resume operating on the route.”

BRTC TAKING PASSENGERS LIKE OTHER COMPANIES

As many as 30 buses are supposed to run the Ghatarchar-Kanchpur route while 50 BRTC buses are supposed to operate on route No. 26. However, there are complaints that the number of buses running on these routes are much less and BRTC buses were running on daily contracts.

BRTC sent a letter to DTCA asking to resolve the issue surrounding BRTC losing passengers due to running on the same route as private bus companies.

After a tour from Ghatarchar to the Science Laboratory, it was clear that there were no bus counters in these areas.

A double decker BRTC bus was seen starting from Mohammadpur depot and picking up and dropping off passengers at random spots through its journey to Dhanmondi 27, Sankar, Abahani Field, Dhanmondi 15, Anam Rangs, Jhigatala and all the way up to the City College.

The bus driver’s assistant, who did not want to be named, said they have been running buses on a Tk 4,000 daily contract since before the election.

Another BRTC official who asked not to be named said they were not getting enough passengers because of the private bus services. So losses were inevitable, he said.

“Each bus is earning Tk 1,600 daily on an average. But the daily fuel cost for a bus is Tk 2,800. The private buses pick up passengers sporadically, so people don’t go to BRTC counters. After the counters were removed, earnings went up by a bit. The counters will however be set up again.”

Buses without permits and from other routes were supposed to be removed from the Pilot Route of Bus Route Franchise. During the start of the initiative, mobile courts also impounded buses running the route. But now buses are freely travelling on those two routes.

BRTC sent a letter about the issue to the executive director of DTCA in November last year.

Md Tajul Islam, chairman of BRTC, wrote in the letter that at least 60 Ramzan Paribahan buses were running on the Ghatarchar-Kanchpur route along with BRTC since Oct 11.

This, he mentioned, was hindering BRTC from “collecting revenue”.

He requested DTCA to deploy mobile courts to suspend the operation of other buses on that route.

‘IT WAS BETTER BEFORE’

Tousif Hasan, a passenger waiting for Nagar Paribahan bus in Mohammadpur said: “Nagar Paribahan bus services were better before and they earned people’s trust. But the situation has changed.”

“The buses now stop at any place, wherever someone raises their hand to get on the bus.”

Hrithik Acharya, a passenger waiting at Jhigatala, said: “The Nagar Paribahan buses picked passengers from counters, gave tickets after paying the fare, so it was better than other buses. But now these buses hardly come by and the waiting time is long.”

AUTHORITIES CONTINUE TO SPUR ON

Despite the current state of Nagar Paribahan, DTCA is still saying what it had been saying since the start.

Sabiha Parveen, member secretary of the Bus Route Rationalisation Committee and DTCA’s executive director, said: “Nagar Paribahan will undergo a change in the coming months. A new government has been appointed, things may turn for the better. The mayor and the government have both promised to settle the issue.”

On buses illegally operating on Nagar Paribahan routes, she said: “They will be gradually removed.”

“The rule of Nagar Paribahan is disciplined. Passengers have to get on buses from counters. BRTC has broken the rules if it randomly picks up passengers after shutting down counters. Our monitoring team is not yet going to those sites. I will send people, and penalise if rules have been broken.”

On launching buses on two new routes, she said tender has been issued over the matter and three organisations were interested.

“We are assessing their papers. We might quickly launch buses on those routes, it could take a month or two.”

WHEN WILL NEW ROUTES BE LAUNCHED?

In February 2023, Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Atiqul Islam said: “We’ve decided to initiate routes No. 24 and 25 to cater to the metro rail passengers. These routes will help the passengers get on a bus after getting off the metro rail or get on the metro rail arriving there on a bus. As many as 50 buses will operate on the routes.”

The route No. 24 starts from Ghatarchar and runs to Abdullahpur via Mohammadpur Bus Stand, Japan Garden City, Shyamoli-Shihumela-Agargaon-Shewrapara-Mirpur 10 and Pallabi-Kalshi-Khilkhet-Airport.

The route No. 25 starts from Ghatarchar and continues through Mohammadpur, Asadgate, Khamarbari, Bijoy Sarani, Jahangir Gate, Mohakhali, Kakali, Khilkhet to Abdullahpur.

However, there has been updates on the previous announcement on launching route No. 23 from Ghatarchar to Mohammadpur, Japan Garden City, Shyamoli, Asadgate, Science Lab, Shahbagh, Gulistan, Dainik Bangla, Kamalapur, Dhalpur, Jatrabari, Shanir Akhra to Chittagong Road.

Asked about the new routes, Mayor Taposh said: “Since the opposition party’s blockades started in October last year, the committee could not proceed with its work. But it will begin soon.

“We will soon hold a meeting to operate on the routes. We’ve issued circulars for bus companies interested in operating on these routes. Applications have to be filed by Feb 15.”

[Writing in English by Syed Mahmud Onindo]