Public bus is considered as the most efficient mode of urban public transport compared to other smaller vehicles like private cars, motorbikes and auto rickshaws. The efficiency of public bus depends on several factors like sufficient roads, convenient parking and enforcement of effective traffic rules and regulations.
In Bangladesh, particularly in Dhaka, public buses have already turned out to be a nightmare for thousands of regular commuters. The operation of public buses is full of chaos and criminalisation.
The twin problems of unfit vehicles and criss-cross routes plague public bus system. These are linked to the malaise of bad governance.
UNFIT VEHICLES: Two types of public buses ply in the streets of Dhaka. One is regular bus having more sitting capacity and other is mini-bus with small sitting capacity. A few double-decker buses, operated by the state-owned road transportation corporation, are also there.
The latest statistics of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) show that the number of registered buses stood at 26,756 at the end of September, 2016. Of these, some 2,698 buses were registered during January-September period of the current year. Again, the total number of minibuses stood at 10,165 during the period under review and only 115 minibuses include in this fleet in the first nine months of the current year.
Fitness of the public buses is very critical and not limited to their structural condition of body only. Most of the buses are in a ramshackle condition with very uncomfortable leg space in between the seats which are also rotten mostly while glasses of side windows are sometime broken. But the story doesn't finish here.
Getting on board a bus in most of the cases is very hazardous especially for women, children and aged persons due to steep door steps along with single door. Buses, which have two doors, now keep the back door closed all the time and these buses are mostly high-floored while doors in the mini-buses are narrow. Only the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) has some low-floor buses in its fleet.
The drivers and their helpers in these buses are mostly rude and care little about their customers' minimum comfort. The reckless driving to compete with each others causes road accidents. Thousands of rickshaw passengers, scared by speeding buses, have to absorb mental. Even smaller vehicles like auto-rickshaw and private cars are vulnerable to the dangers of reckless driving by the bus drivers.
ADMIXTURE OF ROUTES: There is a growing number of bus routes across the capital city and beyond. In many cases, route planning is flawed and not matched with commuters' requirements.
According to BRTA statistics, currently there are 168 approved routes in the Dhaka metropolitan areas against those the number of total approved buses are 7,362. But, actual number of bus is 5,407. The data, however, not up to date and contain information up to 2013. The absence of update data within BRTA itself reflects the lack of adequate regulation and monitoring of the services of public buses in Dhaka.
Admixture of routes create a series of problems for the commuters. One major problem is dependence of longer route buses for travelling in shorter routes. True that most of the major cities in Asia have longer-route buses that also cater shorter routes. But things are not similar in Dhaka due to unplanned expansion of the city along with increasing density of the population. As a rule of thumb, huge density means large number of people is commuting in short distances. Density of population is largely ignored in the policy planning of public transport in Dhaka as well as whole Bangladesh.
A few examples will depict the scenario in a better way. There are no direct buses from Mothijheel or Gulistan to Shahbagh or Farmgate. Those who want to commute between these two points have to rely on the buses which ply on Motijheel-Mirpur or some other long-route buses. But Farmgate is one of the busiest and important intersections of the capital city. Why is not there a direct bus route to and from this point? Such small- route buses can make the life of short-distance commuters a little bit comfortable. Again, there is no circular or similar short-route buses to ease traffic congestions inside the city. Even feeder buses can ease the traffic and increase mobility of the people.
The admixture of long routes turn to a nightmare for morning and evening commuters when they rush for their workplaces and educational institutions and return to their residence. Every morning and evening, thousands of people helplessly wait in different points of the city and struggle to get on board a bus which is already crowded.
BAD GOVERNANCE: Dealing with unfit buses or admixture of routes requires long-term comprehensive planning adequately supported by good governance.
The prevalence of unfit vehicles is due to criminalisation of the public transport sector. The powerful transport owners as well as unruly workers and their leaders are fully backed by vested political quarters. They continue to keep pressure on relevant authorities no to enforce fitness criteria. The law-enforcing agency is also handicapped to deal with the unruliness of the public buses due to political pressure and corruption.
In a similar vein, extortion mafia are taking advantage of low supply and high demand of buses. They are blocking entry of new and efficient competitors.
Public buses are the most convenient mode of transport for the mass people. Without streamlining the public bus service, the mobility of the city dwellers can't be ensured.