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28 November, 2017 11:31:26 AM
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Controversy over app-based transport services

Despite a near-doubling of the fare in the process, drivers soon became unwilling to charge only metred fares
Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled
Controversy over app-based transport services

Everybody knows that autorickshaw drivers have long faced criticism for not taking passengers to their destinations and charging exorbitant prices. Now they say app-based transport services have made it difficult for them to earn a livelihood. The drivers, given the existing situation, have demanded an end to the extra rent charged by autorickshaw owners from them. Some of them say that if this state of affairs continues, they will be forced to leave the profession and return to their hometowns. Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) says the situation is the fault of the autorickshaw drivers themselves.  It says that if they used metred fares and went to their passengers’ destinations, people would use them. Instead, they abuse it. They have not learned, even after so many fines and jail sentences.
Two years back, with the consent of drivers and owners, the government set the fare per kilometre travelled as well as the daily deposit to owners in order to bring order to transport services. Despite a near-doubling of the fare in the process, drivers soon became unwilling to charge only metred fares. The introduction of app-based service ‘Uber’ to Dhaka a few months back has resulted in increased demand for travel by car. A number of other ride services, including Pathao, Cholo, Share A Motorcycle (SAM), Amar Bike, Amar Ride and Moyur, have also become popular.
The CNG Autorickshaw Workers Union Council has announced a strike in Dhaka and Chittagong from November 27, 2017 over a list of demands that include the banning of app-based transport services. In response, many have taken to Facebook, expressing their anger at autorickshaw drivers and owners and calling for a boycott of autorickshaws. Mogbazar area resident Faisal Siddique told the media that “Before this we were held hostage by the CNG drivers. We had to pay the fares because we had no choice. Since the ride-sharing apps started we have many options. They come when we need them. The fare is affordable. This is why they are surpassing the autorickshaws in popularity”.

Pathao says it has nearly 500,000 users. An autorickshaw driver Shafiqul Alam told the media that “We haven’t been making any money since those services came in. All the passengers use motorcycles or cars now. They only use CNGs when they are desperate. Some days we make Tk 200-300 after deposits. Some days we don’t even make that. The owners don’t lower the deposit either”. Another autorickshaw driver, Abdul Halim, said that he had been waiting on Kuril Biswa Road for nearly an hour and had not found a passenger. He said that “As you can see, there are no fares. After deposits I only make about Tk 250 a day. We pay Tk 5,000 in rent and then have to pay for food. It’s not enough. If this continues I will take my family home to our village”.

Another autorickshaw driver Ashraful Alam said that “The owners are currently taking a Tk 1,000 deposit. If they could lower it by even Tk 300, it would still be possible. We could then make the kinds of trips the Uber drivers make. We won’t be able to survive if they don’t lower the deposits”. Though they acknowledge that fewer people are using autorickshaws since the apps became popular, owners say they are unwilling to lower the deposits. Dhaka Metropolitan Autorickshaw Owners Association President Barkat Ullah Bulu told the media that “We are not lowering our rent right now. We are hoping the drivers make more trips. We have filed a petition with the High Court against illegally operated autorickshaws. The number of rides will increase once these are off the streets”.

Meanwhile, in reaction to the autorickshaw drivers’ strike threat and demand for taking the app-based transport services like Uber and Pathao off the road, many Dhaka commuters have called for the boycott of the CNG-run three-wheelers. Many daily users of these app-based services have flooded the social media with angry posts suggesting the autorickshaw drivers had held the commuters as hostage until the app-based services came to the city. Many others are also uploading posts on the wall of their own page, complaining of harassment and extra fare charged by the autorickshaw drivers. At a press conference, the autorickshaw drivers announced a month-long protest to press for allocation of new vehicles and cancellation of app-based transport services in Dhaka and Chittagong in a list of demands. According to the Dhaka and Chittagong chapters of CNG Autorickshaw Workers’ Unity Council, they will go on strike for 48 hours from November 27, 2017 to press home the demands. In the announcement, the group also threatened a nonstop strike in the two cities if their demands are not met by January 15, 2018.

One Khalid Maruf wrote: “It seems people have no sympathy for the striking autorickshaw drivers”. “It is quite justifiable that no one has any sympathy for them,” commented Kabir Mohammad Shahidul Islam on Maruf’s post. “The people have shown them the red card,” commented one Iskander Mirza. One Somik Odhipoti expressed anger towards the owners and drivers of autorickshaws in his post: “Many will be happy to see these (autorickshaws) are removed from the city. How much rich will they get by stealing our money?” Another one Emdadul Haque, a resident of Mohakhali, thinks the protest by the autorickshaw drivers mainly aim at stopping the app-based ride services. He told the media “Autorickshaw drivers now have to charge less than before after the launching of the Uber and Pathao. Their behaviour has also changed. They may be speaking about eight demands, but they have only one target – stopping the app-based services. But, I want the government to give permission to the app-based transporters and make a guideline on those quickly. This will stop the harassment by the autorickshaw drivers gradually”.

Another one Mahmud Hasan Sajeeb wrote on the page, ‘Uber Users of Bangladesh’, “Let’s stand against the autorickshaw drivers who charge three to four times more than the actual fare. The time to be hostages has ended. Let’s boycott autorickshaws”. One Nahid Muhammad suggested including the autorickshaws to an app-based service. “Autocrickshaws can be added along with motorcycles and cars to the app-based services. Those providing the services with bikes or cars won’t be harmed,” he wrote on ‘Pathao Users of Bangladesh’ page. After all a system comfortable to the commuters has to be introduced and in doing so the interests of all the stakeholders needs to be taken into account for a smooth functioning of the cities transport services though it is difficult to satisfy all concerned.   

The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General

Education Cadre

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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