Nagar Paribahan service on verge of closure too

Now only the BRTC buses operates under the Dhaka Nagar Paribahan Service. The photo was captured from the Ghatarchar area in the capital's Keraniganj on 23 JanuaryProthom Alo

The Dhaka Nagar Paribahan (city bus) service was launched two years ago with a commitment to maintain certain rules, including picking passengers from specific counters only, not from any place and not carrying passengers without tickets.

However, the reality is quite the opposite two years after its launching. None of those promised rules are maintained. Passengers now can stop a bus wherever they want with just a hand gesture. This face-saving initiative, introduced to bring back discipline in the city bus services, is now on the verge of being shut down.

The city bus service was launched in two phases with a total of 150 coaches. The number of buses in the service now has dwindled to 30. All these buses are owned by the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC). Although the private companies showed interest in this government initiative in the beginning, they pulled out later.

The first bus service under this initiative was launched on 26 December 2021 on the route from Ghatarchar in Keraniganj to Kanchpur. Later, the service was launched on two other routes. Already the service has been closed down on one route, and is about to be shut on the remaining two.

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The government formed the bus route rationalisation committee through a notification to bring all transport companies operating in Dhaka under ‘one umbrella’ in September 2018 after about one and a half months after the student movement demanding road safety that shook the nation.

The Nagar Paribahan service was launched three years after the formation of the bus route rationalisation committee, which was supposed to gradually expand its operation, but the opposite happened.

The committee made a commitment that buses of other companies would not be allowed on the routes where the Nagar Paribahan service had been launched. However, at least 400 buses of different companies operate on the three routes used by the Dhaka Nagar Paribahan service, according to BRTC bus drivers. As a consequence, the private companies who had joined the initiative could not make profits.

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Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority executive director member secretary of the bus route rationalisation committee Sabiha Parvin claims that the Dhaka Nagar Paribahan service will see success, though it might take time. Buses under this service will be launched on every route gradually.

She said that they are planning stern action to ensure that buses of other companies cannot operate on the routes used by the city bus service.

When asked, Sabiha Parvin admitted to have unofficially learnt about the closure of Nagar Paribahan service in one of the routes.

Speaking regarding picking up passengers from unspecified spots, she passed the responsibility on to the people. She says most of the passengers want to get the bus from places near the residence. People lack awareness in this regard, she claims.

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How it started

Buses operate on more than 200 routes in Dhaka and outskirt. The buses of different companies on the same route race other buses to pick up more passengers, which is one of the major reasons for road accidents.

In 2004, a recommendation was made to introduce ‘bus route franchise’ or ‘bus route rationalisation’ under the 20-year transport plan for Dhaka to resolve the situation and bring back discipline on the roads. This particular move was made to make the roads free of unfit buses and launching new coaches under loans on easy terms. The plan was to operate the service under five to six companies where the owners will get profits depending on their investments.

BRTC drivers said there were some 64 BRTC buses in service on this route. The number has declined to 30 now. The owners have to bear losses due to lack of passengers on these routes. The number of buses was not enough either right from the beginning

As part of this, the initiative was taken to run buses under route-based companies in 2015. The then mayor of the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) late Annisul Huq first took this initiative. Later, in 2018, the bus route rationalisation committee was formed through a notification in September 2018. The then Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) mayor was given the charge of this committee. The committee met 11 times in two and a half years, but failed to launch any bus.

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After him, new DSCC mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor took over as the convenor of the committee. Apart from the DSCC mayor, the committee includes the DNCC mayor, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) chairman, BRTA chairman, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK) chairman, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) commissioner, public transport expert SM Saleh Uddin, Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association secretary general, Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation president and the executive director of the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority executive director.

Road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader inaugurated the bus service of Nagar Paribahan in Mohammadpur on 26 December 2021

The Nagar Paribahan Service was launched on three routes after DSCC mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor took charge. However, the service is on the verge of its closure due to lack of monitoring and proper management within just two years of its launching, despite the commitment to expand the service in the entire city by 2023 from the DSCC mayor on the day of its inauguration.

However, now, we are seeing that it has not been the case, rather the service is near the closure.

DNCC mayor Atiqul Islam too had also shown us the dream on the launching day that the service would help re-establish order on the streets and reduce traffic congestion as well. But the reality is that the city is still packed with unfit vehicles. And the reckless race of buses to pick more passengers hasn’t stopped either.

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Service continues somehow

Some 30 of the 50 buses launched on the Ghatarchar-Kanchpur route two years ago were owned by the BRTC. The remaining 20 buses were operated by private company Trans Silva. However, Trans Silva retracted its operation within six months of launching.

Prothom Alo spoke to three drivers of the BRTC buses that run on this route. They said some 14-15 buses of the BRTC ply on this route now.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Hanif Paribahan general manager Md Ohiduzzaman said that they don’t want to operate buses on this route anymore. They want to move to other routes. There are few other issues as well. They will discuss these issues with the bus route rationalisation committee.

The BRTC operates 14-15 buses on the Ghatarchar to Postogola route now. Speaking to Prothom Alo, the three BRTC drivers said there were some 64 BRTC buses in service on this route. The number has declined to 30 now. The owners have to bear losses due to lack of passengers on these routes. The number of buses was not enough either right from the beginning. As a result, passengers have to wait for a long time to get a bus.

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This correspondent spoke to a passenger named Didar Hossain in front of the ticket counter Nagar Paribahan in the capital’s Bosila area on 22 January.

He said, “We always have to wait for a long time to get a bus. Although the Nagar Paribahan service gained popularity in the initial phase, it didn’t last long.”

After launching 50 buses in the first phase on pilot basis in December 2021, a total of 100 buses were brought into service on two other routes. One of these two routes stretches from Ghatarchar to Demra Staff Quarter and the other is from Ghatarchar to the Kadamtali area in Postogola. The Hanif Paribahan used to operate 30 buses on the route from Ghatarchar to Demra Staff Quarter. The BRTC had the remaining 20 buses in service on this route. The Hanif Paribahan has not been operating buses on this route for the last four months. So are the BRTC buses.

Shortfall in the commitment

Communication expert Md Hadiuzzaman feels that there is a lack in the political commitment to properly keep the Nagar Paribahan service operational.

He told Prothom Alo, “We should not ignore the roads beneath after the inauguration of metro rail services, because, still 80 per cent of the people use the roads.

Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) professor Hadiuzzaman says the bus owners’ syndicate is a big barrier to launching the Nagar Paribahan service. He thinks the main challenge to make this city bus service a success is to break this syndicate as many people’s interests and money are involved here.

“It’s simply unacceptable that the government is capable of accomplishing mega projects one after another, but can’t establish discipline in the public transport sector. The question is whether the government wants that or not,” professor Hadiuzzaman added.

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu