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Covid-19: What will happen to those whose only income is ride-sharing?

  • Published at 04:05 pm June 30th, 2021

All ride sharing services are halted during the nationwide lockdown

The ride-sharing sector has been hit hard by Covid-19, causing untold sufferings to those whose livelihoods depend on it. 

After shutting down the service for about six months last year during the lockdown, ride-sharing organizations resumed services in September and set a 6-month target for a turn around.

However, it might take them the next few years to recover from the losses suffered due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the service operators.

Ride-sharing companies have temporarily suspended ride operations during the government-declared lockdown starting from June 26 in order to limit the spread of Covid-19. 

The Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) on Wednesday requested everyone not to share any rides on motorcycles to prevent the transmission of coronavirus.

The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) had issued a ban on public transports, including ride-sharing services, starting from March 26, 2020. 

This year the BRTA had banned passenger transport from April 1 to prevent coronavirus transmissions. However, after only a few days of restrictions the government gave permission for the operation of public transports in a limited capacity.

No alternative

Seven to eight motorcycle riders were seen talking in front of Suchana Community Center (identified by them as Pathao stand) in Mohammadpur area of Dhaka. They all transport passengers on motorcycles on behalf of various ride sharing organizations.

One of them, Mohammad Jafor, 45, asked the reporter: "Where are you going? I will keep the fare low ‘madam’.”

When asked whether he was sharing a bike ride despite the ride sharing services being suspended, he said: “I am not in a position to return home to the village, so I am sitting with my bike on the road despite the app being closed.”

Jafor had returned from Kuwait after an accident which led to backbone issues, making it difficult for him to work for longer durations.

He said he started a chicken farm after selling his village land but people killed the fowls with poison.

After that he came to Dhaka and bought three bikes in 2019, three months before the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“I rented out all of them to different people; they were working as pathao or uber drivers. During the lockdown last year, everyone’s income came to a halt,” he added.

A rider, Raj Hasan, said: “I worked at an IT firm. I continued the job last year, even after my salary was halved. However, on January 1 this year, the company was shut down. The bike was my last hope.”

Another rider Mohammad Halim said: “We welcome the government’s decision, but why is the government not making alternative arrangements for us? If we could get a little allowance, we could at least ensure food for ourselves during the lockdown.”

The DMP says that during the ongoing lockdown, people familiar with motorcyclists are still sharing rides. The same helmet is being used repeatedly by different people, which increases the risk of coronavirus infection.

Motorcycles on the road

Almost 406,000 motorcycles were registered in Dhaka between 2017 and May 2021.

Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) data show the number of registered motorcycles has doubled over the last eight years in the capital. 

The number of registered motorcycles in Dhaka stood at 32,777 in May 2021, while it was only 210,000 in 2010. The number has risen significantly since 2017 when ride-sharing services, including Uber and Pathao, Shohoz, Obhai were introduced.

Sector insecure

Maliha M Quadir, founder of Shohoz, told Dhaka Tribune that most of the riders (about 70%) came from different districts. They used to earn a minimum of Tk20,000 each by ride-sharing but now the sector has collapsed. 

Sayeda Nabila Mahabub, director of Marketing of Pathao said: “Like most start-ups around the globe, and indeed in Bangladesh, we are taking every action within our control to reduce our expenses, so we can continue to support our ecosystem.”

“It will be very difficult to sustain ourselves without the government’s supervision,” she added. 

Uber officials said they had services in many countries of the world, but the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic could not be measured as yet.

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