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POST TIME: 1 September, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Cheating on with sitting-service
Operators still charging high fares for the ‘sitting’, ‘gate-lock’ and ‘non-stop’ services, even though those buses stop almost everywhere
Saugato Bosu

Cheating on with sitting-service

The suffering of city commuters continues unabated, as they are still facing multiple problems, including erratic fare, despite a massive students’ movement demanding proper transport management to reduce people’s difficulties. Most bus operators have been overcharging passengers for the last few years in the name of providing sitting facilities, and the practice is still on. Although the nine-point demands of students included proper commuter management in city buses to prevent them from taking excess passengers and offering students fare discounts across the country including capital Dhaka.

The ‘sitting’ service ran on a fixed fare based on the number of seats. There are four or five fixed stops for checking and maintaining the system. A checker records the number of passengers in a book. The system was acceptable to the passengers as long as the rules were followed. But it collapsed when the owners of buses tried to earn extra profits by flouting the rules.

Dhaka city bus owners are charging fares at will, ignoring the government fare structure. The rules regarding fares, are not being followed, say passengers.

But even after this massive movement, operators are still charging high fares for the ‘sitting’, ‘gate-lock’ and ‘non-stop’ services, even though those buses stop almost everywhere, depending on the whims of the driver and his helper, and are usually overloaded.

If a bus goes from Dhamrai to Gulistan, passengers go through five or six checks. The fare for sitting is fixed from one check point to another.

After examining the route of some buses offering the sitting services, the fare from Farmgate to Gabtoli was found to be Tk. 15.

After checking by staff of respective transport companies at Farmgate, if a passenger gets on the bus, he will still have to pay Tk 15, though the fare is Tk. 10 for non sitting services.

When checking is finished, helper stops bus at different places and take passengers. The next checkpoint for a bus on this route is Gabtali and the fare is fixed at Tk. 25. If a passenger has to leave the bus before it, then he will still have to pay Tk. 25.

To collect the extra fare, bus owners ignore the set fare and use their self-devised system. Such ‘sitting service’ is illegal, according to Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) officials.

Muhammad Showkat Ali, secretary of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), talked about the fare and quality of the sitting service and said no bus was allowed to operate as sitting service. Usually, permission is provided with the conditions of non-stop service, which is then termed as sitting service to get more profit from passengers.

Passengers have expressed their worries over the continuing BRTA drive to stop private buses from providing illegal ‘sitting’ or ‘locked-gate’ services.

While talking to passengers, the disadvantages and advantages of the sitting service came to light.

“When there is a vacant seat, bus operators stop wherever they want, be it the middle of the road or at lesser known

stops,” said Afsana Khatun a corporate employee and regular commuter.

“When they sense that the passengers are in trouble and there is a shortage of transport, they not only charge more but also don’t want to pick up passengers,” added Shakhawat, another corporate person.

Muhammad Showkat Ali said that a bus will run without any stoppage till a certain distance, but in this case the bus staff do not abide by this rule and take the passengers at different stops in hopes of more profit.

 Asked why their operators were unable to stop such practices, he said, “We need cooperation from everyone. If the bus owners and staff comply with the law, it will stop.”

Passengers of airport-bound buses from Mogbazar complained that most of the buses on this route were of the sitting service, but when passengers got in from Moghbazar for going to Satrasta or Nabisco, they had to pay a compulsory 20 Tk. The fair is Tk. 7, legally.

Ajmiri Glory, Shotabdi Poribahan, Bolaka, Gazipur Poribahan are some of the example of this service on this route. In most cases, helpers insist on a fixed fare of Tk. 20. In the absence of other transport options, passengers have to travel this short road by paying 20 Tk. Several bus service providers, operating between Farmgate and Shamoli, charge extra fare on the plea of providing sitting service, as the authorities seem to do little to stop this practice.

Dhaka Metro’s Regional Transport Committee, on September 16, 2015, published on the BRTA website a fare chart for bus service providers following discussions with bus owners.

According to it, the fare for buses and minibuses is Tk 1.7 and Tk 1.6 for per km. The minimum fare has been fixed at Tk 7 and Tk 5 respectively. The route distance is 29.3 km.

The maximum fare from Farmgate to Shamoli, only four kilometres apart, should be Tk 7 but commuters have to pay Tk 15 for the ride for what is designated as a sitting-service bus.

For Example, Welcome, Labbayek, and Sajon (sitting-service buses) charge Tk. 15 per passenger on that route. The fare, according to the BRTA, website is Tk 7 for large buses.

When contacted, most of the bus service officials refused to comment. One of them, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the fare fixed by the government was poor and hardly fetched enough revenue to maintain services.

People travelling to the outskirts of Dhaka, however, spoke of advantages of the sitting service. They said the buses travelled faster because of this arrangement. They agreed that the fare was slightly high but were willing pay considering the time saved and security compared to local services.

When talking to different sitting-service bus operators, they invariably referred to their owners’ instructions. They say they charged the fare they do because they are ordered to do so. If some passengers pay less than the fare fixed by them, the operators have to make up the difference by paying their own pockets.

If passengers challenge the bus drivers and their helpers, they have their own explanations to offer. “I am just doing my job and charging the amount I have been asked to charge,” a bus helper told this correspondent.

Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity (BJKS) Secretary General, suggested that sitting-service buses should charge the fare fixed by the government, the vehicles should be clean, owners must not lease out the buses to the drivers on a daily-contract basis, there should be no extra seats, and the buses should have a specific colour scheme for their easy identification.

According to the BRTA, about 30,496 buses and 10,351 minibuses were registered as of October 2017 with Dhaka city route permits. They can carry about 17.2 lakh passengers on each trip.