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Inter-district commuters find lockdown workaround

by Khan Helal

Since the countrywide “lockdown” started from April 5 to curb the spread of Covid-19, construction worker Md Sumon has been unable to find any work.

So the Mirpur resident decided to go back to his home in Magura as it was getting difficult for him to stay in the capital without work. Besides, he could also celebrate Eid holidays with his family members at home.

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On Monday afternoon, the 45-year-old went to Gabtoli inter-district bus terminal, hoping to find a bus service. But he could not, due to the ongoing restriction on movement of inter-district buses.

When he was about to return, some transport workers came up to him and offered to arrange transport for him on a microbus. But he has to pay additional fare and share the ride with other passengers, they informed.

“They said I have to pay Tk 1,500 if I want to go to Magura on a microbus but I’m bargaining with them to get the service at Tk 1,000,” Sumon told this correspondent.

Like Sumon, many passengers who want to go to other districts are being offered such services by some transport workers of inter-district buses.

They arrange microbus, ambulance and private car for passengers and take commission from them.

Considering the current Covid-19 situation, the government extended the ongoing restriction on inter-district transport movement till May 16. But it has allowed public transport to operate within the cities from tomorrow. Launch and train services will also remain suspended till May 16.  

During multiple visits to the Gabtoli Bus Terminal, this correspondent found a good number of people waiting for transport to go back to their home in northern and southwestern districts.

This newspaper also saw many transport workers talking to passengers, asking them about their destinations and negotiating fares. Once fixed, they are taking them to the vehicles — some parked inside the terminal while others on the streets nearby.  

Many staffers of bus companies said this has become a regular scenario at the terminal — people waiting and hoping to find a transport to go back home, especially ahead of Eid.

To help them, they said, some transport workers came forward and started arranging microbus, ambulance and private car services.

But they are charging more than double the fare compared to bus fare, said passengers. Also, maintaining physical distancing remains a far cry as workers are more interested in filling up all the seats before a vehicle starts its journey, they added.

Workers, however, said as Eid approaches, more people are trying to leave the capital and are rushing to the terminal in search of a transport.

A staff member of a bus company said for more than 10 passengers they arrange a microbus, if the number remains between five and 10 then an ambulance and if it is less than five then a private car.

“I have been working at a bus counter for the last 32 years and I know many passengers quite well. They keep on requesting me to arrange something for them in this situation. And this is how we started the service,” he said.

He said many also show up with their families to go to their home districts and they arrange transportation for them along with known passengers.

“We take Tk 100 from each passenger for the help” he said.

This is not only assisting them to sustain amid the “lockdown”, but also helping people as many do not have the ability to hire a private car just for themselves due to the high price, said another worker.

Around 50 transport workers are involved with arranging transportation for people during this lockdown, he said.      

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