When the government raised the prices of diesel and kerosene at the retail level by 23 per cent or Tk15 per litre, everyone knew that a sharp rise in bus fare was unavoidable. Bus operators in the Dhaka-Narayanganj route are quite smart in this regard. Without waiting for any official announcement, they started to charge Tk 50, which was earlier Tk 35. To compel the government to increase the transport fare, a countrywide undeclared strike was enforced by the transport operators for almost 72 hours. Finally, at a meeting with the bus operators, the government has refixed intra-city public bus fare at Tk 2.15 per km from Tk 1.70 and minimum fare at Tk 10 for buses and Tk 8.0 per minibuses.
Though bus services resumed, the sufferings of the commuters continued. Bus operators have started to overcharge the passengers defying the fare rate fixed by the government and agreed by the transport owners. Print and electronic media reports exposed the continuous harassment of commuters by bus staff as they forcefully collect higher fares than approved. Heated arguments between transport workers and commuters continue to the bitter end and passengers are often assaulted by drivers and their assistants and forced to get off.
The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) has been receiving complaints about overcharging and it has decided to launch mobile courts to stop the overcharging. The transport and communication minister also called upon the transport leaders not to overcharge and warned that strict action would be taken for overcharging. Commuters have, however, little to get from all these warnings from the government as their experiences are always painful. They cannot remember any single incident where the authorities have succeeded to contain the fare anarchy and reducing the sufferings of commuters.
The exercise of fixing or refixing bus fare is mostly a mockery. The authorities sit with the transport owners ignoring the commuters or ultimate consumers. So, consultation with all stakeholders should be part of the fare fixing mechanism. Unfortunately, those who are working to uphold the interest of consumers and call for ensuring the welfare and safety of the commuters have been facing regular intimidation in various forms. Chairman of Nirapad Sarak Chai, a citizen movement demanding road safety, Ilias Kanchan has faced a series of threats and defamation by the transport owners and workers associations. Bangladesh Road Transport Workers' Federation executive president Shajahan Khan, also a former minister continuously misleads and provokes the transport workers in this regard. Again, Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, Secretary-General of Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, was arrested and jailed in an extortion case in 2018. He was, later on, released from jail. The welfare association has been regularly presenting the statistics of road accidents which irritate the authorities and transport operators.
All these also clearly indicate the growing criminalisation of the public transport sector and no place for consumer rights there. That's why commuters have been paying excessively high fares for inadequate and poor services of public bus transport. They have also been systematically marginalised by the authorities who are indifferent to the consumers' sufferings. This indifference makes the implementation of the government-fixed bus fares difficult and common people fall prey to the whims of transport owners.