When late mayor Annisul Huq floated the bus route rationalisation plan for Dhaka city, many found it to be a pipe dream. Such scepticism appears to be not out of place still now. Nearly, five years after the sad demise of Annisul, two city corporations are still struggling to implement the plan even in one route. The much-touted project of the late mayor had remained in cold storage for more than a couple of years. But the incumbent mayors of Dhaka North and South City Corporations had picked up the plan and vowed to carry it through, weathering all odds. At least 24 meetings that the special committee on bus route rationalisation under their joint leadership held to date speak of their resolve.
But the odds are too many and, in some cases, insurmountable. Toughest of all is the unwillingness of the transport owners to be the key partners of the plan that, if implemented properly, will discipline the operation of passenger buses and rid the commuters of untold sufferings. The 'Nagar Paribhan', which now operates only in one route---Ghatarchar-Kanchpur, is in no way near the conditions attached to the original plan, as reported in a news item published in this paper late last week. Buses placed under the 'single route, single company concept' are operating like the conventional ones, as they pick up and drop passengers at any place, even in the middle of the road. The drivers and their helpers also do not wear designated uniforms. Nor do they have formal appointment letters and fixed wages.
The two mayors by now must have learnt about the difficulty in convincing the transport owners to put their fleet of buses under the bus route franchise system. The latter has become unmanageable and defiant because of the patronization they have been receiving from the powerful quarters in recent times. That they are prone to erratic behaviour is very much evident from the anarchic situation now prevailing in the transport sector. The delay in enforcing many important provisions of the new transport act adopted by parliament in 2018 following the 'Nirapad Sarak Andolon' (Safe Road Movement), waged by school students, also points to the power they wield. Thus, the task of luring them into a disciplined road transport operation in Dhaka city seems very difficult to accomplish.
A leading transport expert has suggested a radical measure that might enable the government to introduce the bus route franchise, meaning a single company for a single route. The measure wants an end to the involvement of the existing bus owners in the city's passenger bus service. However, it would be necessary to pay adequate financial compensation to the bus owners before moving towards that direction. The perception is that there could not be an efficient city bus service keeping the vested interests involved in the transport business. There is also a proposal to get the international operators involved in the BRF through open bidding. Given the situation prevailing in the city's bus transportation system, all these might also appear as pipe dreams. But the reality is that commuters have been longing for a radical change for long in the city's bus service where anarchy rather than discipline rules the roost.