The Financial Express

Travels during pandemic

| Updated: April 04, 2021 21:49:41

Travels during pandemic

Amid the menacing resurgence of the novel corona cases in the country, the government has resumed its preventive measures targeting all public modes of travel. They include trains, buses and launches. It was in place for months last year. Ironically, the bus commuters have this year opposed the measure of cutting the number of passengers by half --- to ensure physical distance. It led to an acute reduction in bus operation on working days. Last year, half-capacity buses plied the Dhaka streets during a shutdown.  However, it took time for the commuters before they could accept the measure fully. Later, they welcomed it seeing the bus operators' generous use of hand sanitisers anddisinfectants. The government-planned arrangement requires buses, trains, and motor-launches to run at half their capacity; for it the bus and launch passengers this year have to pay 60pc extra against their ticket fares.

With the directive coming into force across the country one more time, the bus passengers in Dhaka may have to brace for a return of the bickering and heated arguments aboard the buses and mini-buses.  However, normalcy returned eventually last year.Many welcomed the measure of paying a fare double the normal rates. They realised the significance of the temporary arrangement: it was aimed at ensuring that the commuters did not have to sit on a double seat side by side. Occupying a 2-seat space alone and enjoying the benefit of physical distance was worth the payment of a fare double the normal one. Yet a section of the bus drivers, conductors and helpers could not be resisted from abusingthe pandemic directive. Apparently they were found overenthusiastically punctual in taking the bus fares at a rate double the normal. It was a part of the government plan to compensate the bus owners for leaving two seats for a single passenger. The authorities were right in their decision. They may have thought it was in this novel way physical distance on public transports could be ensured. Yet buses began defaulting.

Increased motor-launch fares in exchange of keeping passengers at safe distance from others have been put into effect this year. Like during the last time, the state-run trains are set to run at half their sitting capacity. It means both the local and express trains may not have to see the usual rush of passengers anytime soon. In which way the operation of the half-empty inter-city and the other long-distance trains might unfold in the near future is something worth waiting for. However, as seen during the last peak-time pandemic, the railway department, for now, is all set to operate their trains by complying with the imperative of physical distance.

After the fizzling out of the health protocol-friendly arrangements, the Dhaka bus commuters are feared to brace for the return of the chaotic scenes which prevailed inside buses last year. What happened during the last Dhaka shutdown was the eventual disappearance of the health guidelines inside buses. It began with compelling the passengers to sit side by side on a seat supposed to be specified for one. It was being done on the pretext of rush hour crowds. Passengers expect the bus operators to follow the directives coming from the higher authorities. Given the unwarranted episodes experienced last year, many hygiene-conscious people are doubtful about the full compliance of the government guidelines this year.

As has been seen last year, the bus people might emerge as being the major breakers of the pandemic-time health guidelines. With days wearing on, the bus owners at one point last year began picking passengers at will. With all seats filled and many standing on the isles, the buses may offer once again the same old depressing look. The fruits of pandemic-time health guidelines should be emphatically impressed upon the transport operators, and also the impatient passengers.

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