As the month of Ramadan draws to a close and Eid-ul-Fitr approaches, the shopping hubs in Dhaka are crowded with Eid shoppers, which means traffic jams are at an all-time high, causing people to suffer and lose hours on end on the streets.
Faisal Mahmud, an MBA student, found the perfect way to go around the insufferable traffic; throughout Ramadan, he used Pathao, an-app based motorcycle service which has reduced the daily suffering of many commuters in the city.
“I used to have to wait for a bus at Rampura bus stand to go to my office in Gulshan every day. But because of the traffic jam and overcrowding in the buses, I sometimes missed the buses and was often late to work. The traffic gets worse during Ramadan. But since I started using Pathao, It has saved me time and I can finally get to my office on time,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
It is not just men who are using Pathao to beat traffic jams either.
Sultana Jahan Mitu, journalist at a private TV channel, is a regular user of Pathao. “Our society is far from being women-friendly, so I have to argue with men every day to get a ride on a bus during office hours since there are lots of passengers on board,” she said. “Even then, sometimes bus conductors do not want to take women on their buses either, saying there are no seats for women. Sometimes I cannot get a ride on a bus because of overcrowding even though the female seats are empty. It is not feasible to ride a rickshaw or a CNG-run autorickshaw every day either, because of the high charges.”
Mitu found the solution to her dilemma in Pathao. “Before, a lot of my time was wasted on the street. But now, with this service, I can reach my office on time, and also go shopping without the hassle of traffic, since motorcycles can weave through the traffic jams easily.”
What is Pathao?
“We came up with Pathao for the benefit of Dhaka citizens thinking about the intense traffic jams here,” said Hussain M Elius, CEO of the company.
Since it was launched in March 2016, Pathao has become popular among the daily commuters in Dhaka, especially among students and job holders. Anyone can order a motorcycle ride using this app on their smartphones. The nearest biker usually responds within 15 minutes after a ride has been requested through the app.
Pathao is also a great source of extra income for bikers, who can register with the required documents and a licence. A number of students, businessmen and job holders have taken up providing the service, either part time or full time.
Md Liton, a resident of Mugdapara, is one such biker who started working at Pathao as a part-time biker three months ago.
“I usually get four or five customers a day, making around Tk400-500. I also work at a buying house, but the salary is not quite enough to provide for my family. So I work as a biker in the morning from 7 am to 11 am,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
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How to avail Pathao's services Collected from Pathao's official Facebook page
He further said he usually gets mostly young male passengers, but sometimes he gets female university students who are looking to get to their classes fast.
Md Alamgir Bari has been working at Pathao full-time for two months, since he moved to Dhaka from Bogra.
“I looked for a job for a few years, but without much luck. So I borrowed my friend's bike and now use it to give a ride to people and earn some money in my spare time,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “I work from the morning until 9pm and earn about Tk700-800 after deducting Pathao's 20% commission and the fuel cost every day, which is enough to cover my monthly expenses.”
Alamgir said since the service is new and there are no government policies supporting it yet, he sometimes gets harassed by police. He urged the authorities concerned to formulate necessary policies regarding the service.
Pathao CEO Elius said there are no regulations regarding services like Pathao. “We applied for the approval to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA),” he said.
When contacted, Nazmul Ahsan Majumdar, director (enforcement) at Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), said: “There is currently no policy regarding these types of services. But we have no intention of stopping them since they are quite useful, and popular, and most users have given positive feedback about them.”
He further added that two committees comprising 14-15 members have been formed who have formulated a draft policy on app-based traffic movement.
"We hope to send the draft to the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges on Thursday. Once the ministry approves it, the draft will go to the Ministry of Law for vetting and then to the Cabinet for final approval. Once it gets final approval, these app-based transport services will be officially allowed to run their businesses,” Nazmul said.
The policy will ensure quality service and passengers' security and will regulate the number of vehicles on the streets under app-based transport services, he added.
Twice the users during Ramadan
Mehedi Hasan Hridoy, a Pathao biker who also works at an event management company in Mohammadpur, Dhaka, told the Dhaka Tribune: “There are more people commuting in the last few days before Eid, which has led to more traffic jams on the streets. That is why we now have more people using our services.”
Mehedi said he used to get four or five passengers every day before Ramadan, but during Ramadan, he got 12-18 passengers every day. “So now I have some extra money for Eid.”
Elius said the service got more users during Ramadan because traffic usually increases during this month.
“The number of bikers also went up from 800 to 1,000. Most of them are using their motorcycles to earn some extra money before Eid,” said the Pathao CEO.
Not only men, but women are also registering as bikers, he said. Around 100 women are now registered as Pathao bikers.
“However, social and conservative norms in our country are holding back more women from registering,” he added.
Although the service has become popular quite fast, a few issues have been raised by passengers regarding missing looking glasses, helmets, missing parts, or sudden engine failures on the road.
Customers have also raised concerns over their details being available to the bikers, and the lack of details of the bikers or the number plates of their motorcycles. This has led users to feel unsafe, leading to calls to address these issues.
Asked about the users' concerns, Pathao CEO Elius said: “As we are new, we may have some problems, but we are trying to improve our service quality.”
Nazmul Ahsan, the BRTA director, said: “We are working to ensure the validity of the bikers and to improve the quality and security of not just Pathao, but Uber and other app-based transport services as well.”