6 years ago

Reviving BRTC for public buses

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The main mode of public transportation in Dhaka as well as all over the country is privately operated buses. This has become the most vulnerable part of the country's public transportation system as the owners and workers of the privately-run buses virtually make the commuters hostage to their whims. With political-backing and criminality going along, operation of this mode of public transport has turned totally unruly.
On the other hand, excessive and undesirable clout of private bus operators has almost marginalised the state-run bus service. The sorry state of Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) is quite visible. BRTC, with its 1,100 buses can't match the fleet of private buses which has around 67,000 buses. According to the latest statistics of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), total number of registered minibuses in the country stood at 27,368 at the end of 2016 and the number of registered buses at 39,797. A large number of the buses are almost in a ramshackle state and not fit to ply the roads and highways.
The problems with BRTC bus service are mainly two-prong. One is its institutional failure like many other state-run corporations or bodies. The other is strong resistance from the private bus operators. Nevertheless, no effective steps are there to overcome these problems. Instead of improving the operational efficiency by containing irregularities and corruption, the authority is now too pre-occupied with procuring new buses for the fleet along with spending spree on maintenance and repair. While, new buses are essential to make the service efficient and effective, more important is to ensure good governance in the operation of the corporation.
The government has already decided to procure some 600 buses for BRTC from India under the US$ 1 billion line of credit.  Of these, 300 are double-decker buses, 100 single-decker air conditioned (AC) city buses, 100 are single-decker AC intercity buses and 100 single-decker non-AC buses. Besides, 300 trucks will also be procured.
Previous experiences of procurement of buses for BRTC were bitter due to inappropriate planning along with irregularities. For example, it was in 2002 when BRTC procured some 50 double-decker Volvo buses from Sweden. Price of each bus was over Tk 10 million.. Though many people at that time questioned the necessity of such expenditure, the procurement was completed -- allegedly to serve the interest of the then transport and communication minister. At that time, it was claimed that minimum economic life of the buses is 15 years and it could run even 20 years with good maintenance. But, in less than a decade, almost all the Volvo double-decker buses disappeared from the streets of the city.   
Again, in 2012 some 50 articulated or bendy buses were purchased from India under the line of credit at a cost of Tk 11.2 million each. But in less than three years of hitting the road, more than a dozen become non-operational. Others are also gradually moving in the same direction. Overall, the articulated buses became a burden of the BRTC. Articulated bus comprises two rigid sections but can bend in the middle with higher standing capacity than sitting. But, the roads in Dhaka city are not fully favourable for this type of buses.
These two examples show how public money is wasted and a service-oriented body kept inefficient. Earlier, BRTC procured double-decker buses from India and low-floor buses from China. These two types of buses are still in operation and giving reasonably good service.
In fact, double-decker buses are very effective to overcome the traffic congestion in Dhaka. These can carry more passengers in a single trip then two minibuses can without occupying much road space. The low-floor BRTC buses are also very convenient for women, elderly people and the physically challenged. No private buses are providing such passenger-friendly service.  Thus, BRTC should go for these two types of buses along with some AC buses to strengthen its fleet. It is the government's responsibility to ensure good governance in the BRTC management and operation.  
Another very crucial thing for successful operation of BRTC is dealing with the private bus operators. Few months back, even the communication minister acknowledged the pressure of the private bus owners and workers on various counts. Due to their strong resistance over the years, BRTC had to withdraw its buses from different routes. The resistance is violent in many cases. Moreover, the most effective tool private operators resort to is strike for indefinite period. Such strike is common in different parts of the country.
As mentioned earlier, private operators have strong political backing and they bother little about laws and regulations. There are organised gangs of hooligans, sponsored by the private operators, to keep the sector under their control. The main thing is that private operators neither believe in competition, nor in service. That's why, they vehemently oppose and resist the way BRTC wants to operate.
The government should take strong measures to deal with the illegitimate demands of the private operators and provide full support to run BRTC buses without any resistance. Smooth plying of BRTC buses will be a great leap forward to restore discipline in the public transportation in the country.
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