Commuters are suffering from a dearth of public transport options in Chittagong as a good number of vehicles are being used for purposes other than transportation of the public.
The problem has been exacerbated by the inadequate number of public passenger vehicles, with many areas of the city only reachable by a single mode of transport.
Often, especially during the morning and evening rush hours, people have to wait for hours before they can get into a public bus to reach their destination.
The unavailability of transport has been attributed partly to bus owners, who often rent out their vehicles for transportation of the workers in the Chittagong Export Processing Zone (CEPZ).
Sources said most of the factories in the CEPZ have no vehicles of their own and hence rent buses – 250 to 300 of them – to carry their workers and staff members every morning and evening.
Bus owners rent out their vehicles because they find it more profitable that way than to have them ply through the city streets with general commuters.
According to sources in the traffic division of Chittagong Metropolitan Police (CMP), most of these buses do not have “route permits” to operate outside the bounds of the city.
A recent survey by the Regional Transport Authority of Chittagong shows that around 300 of the 856 buses, which have permits to ply the city’s 11 routes, are not operating within their assigned areas.
Additionally, many buses are kept off the roads as they require maintenance, putting extra strain on the city’s struggling public transport sector. Also, police sometimes seize or requisition public vehicles.
Khadija Akhter, a garment worker, said during hartal days police sometimes seize “tempu”, a three-wheeler passenger vehicle, which is her only means of transport.
“Tempu is the only vehicle available for me to travel to and from office, and in case one or two of them are seized, it gets really difficult for me to travel,” she added.
Nur Mohammad, a computer engineer who resides in the Balucchara area of the city, said he often fails to reach his office on time, though he leaves home a long time before the start of his working hours. “I have to wait for at least one and a half hours in the morning every day to be able to board a bus,” he said.
However, female passengers find travelling even more difficult
as, firstly, it is difficult for them to elbow their male counterparts out of the way to get into a bus and secondly, because there are few seats reserved for them.
Moyomi Khandaker, a student of Chittagong University, said the number of female-only seats is inadequate for the growing number of female commuters in Chittagong.
“During rush hours, it becomes really difficult for us to board a public transport. The city corporation authorities should look into this problem,” she added.
Nasima Akhter, another commuter, said she has to change vehicles twice to reach her workplace in Patenga, which is around 12 kilometres from where she lives in Pahartali.
“I have to wait for at least an hour at each bus stop, which is really troubling,” she said.
Abul Kalam Azad, president of Brihattara Chattagram Sarak Paribahan Malik-Sramik Oikya Parishad, told the Dhaka Tribune that the transport business is not “in a good state” these days.
“To our knowledge, many owners are incurring heavy losses these days. Prices of motor parts have increased and there are other predicaments too,” he said.
He, however, didn’t say anything about the allegations of fixed-route buses going beyond their assigned areas.