In a city where public transport has never been up to the mark or up to the numbers needed against the demand, CNG auto-rickshaws have had the chance to rule the road.
And they used to rule once. A staggering statistic might open one’s eyes on the extent of their reach— the price of a registered three wheeler is no less than 16 lakh in Dhaka. With that price, one can buy a decent car.
However, these CNG auto-rickshaws are now experiencing a slow death in the era of ride-sharing apps like Uber and Pathao, but both commuters and stakeholders concerned believe they have only themselves to blame for their dire straits.
Agitated CNG owners and drivers
In a recent development, the CNG auto-rickshaw owners’ association observed a strike and submitted their demands in writing to the BRTA for banning Uber, Pathao and other ride-sharing facilities from the city’s roads.
During a press conference on the second week of this month, the auto-rickshaw drivers announced a month-long demonstration programme to press home a charter of demands, including allocation of new vehicles and cancellation of app-based transport services in Dhaka and Chittagong.
In the announcement, Dhaka and Chittagong chapters of CNG Auto-rickshaw Workers' Unity Council threatened to go for a nonstop strike if their demands are not met by January 15.
Such demands have meanwhile led to serious public backlashes, and customers have taken to social media and public forums to express their serious dissatisfaction.
Mamun Abdullah, employee of a cement company said, “Who wants auto-rickshaws anymore? They charge too much and never go by the meter.”
Zania Haque, an airline employee, wrote on social media, “Why doesn’t the BRTA close down auto-rickshaw services? I never get them when I need them.”
Mohammad Golam Morshed, a bank employee, said he usually goes out of his office at around 11 pm every day.
“Uber is like a life saver for me. If there was no Uber, it would be very difficult to reach home at that hour of the night on a regular basis. Ride-sharing apps have become an integral part of city life now.”
CNG owners want a share of the pie too
Meanwhile, realising both the public backlash and the business potential, a faction of auto-rickshaw owners and drivers said they planned to join ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Pathao from next year.
Shakhawat Hossain Dulal, secretary of Dhaka Auto-rickshaw Workers’ Union, said they have already submitted a letter to the BRTA asking it to create a provision that includes auto-rickshaws as part of the modes of transportationthat can be used as ride-sharing vehicles.
Dulal claimed their daily income has fallen by three times with the launching of Uber and Pathao in the country.
“We have decided to join the services and had talks with a ride-sharing company to train the drivers,” he said.
Interestingly, an app named-Hello Ride has already been developed to accommodate the CNG auto-rickshaws in the pool of ride sharing vehicles.
Rinku Jamal, coordinator of Hello Ride, said they have made the app to help the auto-rickshaws get more customers.
Jamal saidthat they had already trained more than 100 drivers to operate the application on their mobile phones.
Asked about the fare, he said passengers will have to pay an extra Tk 30 to avail rides using their apps alongside the fare set by the government.
However, he acknowledged the fact that most CNG auto-rickshaws don’t travel by the meter and they charge their own fares, which makes it difficult to assess the fare through any software.
“I believe, if they follow the government approved chart, it will actually be beneficial for them.”
What do the regulators say?
The transport regulator Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) held a meeting last Sunday and planned to include a provision in its draft ride-sharing guideline for the three-wheelers.
BRTA director of engineering Nurul Islam said they are mulling over finding ways to accommodate ride-sharing facilities for the CNG drivers.
“But there are challenges since CNG-run auto-rickshaws are not private modes of vehicles but areinstead documented as a tera-transit type in our list,” he said.
“Nonetheless, since it is still carrying a significant portion of Dhaka’s commuters, we are trying to include the mode of transport under ride-sharing facilities by fixing existing problems,” he added.