Public Transport in Bangladesh needs a robust planning and development. This feature explains the facts and recommends changes needed in this sector.

The mother earth is facing an unprecedented shift of our common behavior in its history. Everything that we used to do has been experiencing change from the core. As of May 9, 2020 there are over 4 million covid-19 cases detected and nearly 276 thousand lives been lost. The carnage continues and we are assessing how our surroundings will be changed after the massacre ends.

Countries with weak public transport facility will face a huge challenge. Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, is no exception. Cities like Dhaka, Chattogram, Naryanganj, Gazipur, Barishal, Rajshahi, Sylhet are the home of major industrial units and corporate offices. The city dwellers are mostly dependent on public transport. The modes of transportation are Bus, Train, water vessels, CNG auto rickshaw and human hauler.

But the available vehicles and vessels are less in numbers than the number of users. Therefore we experience overly crowded vehicles moving around cities and carrying people cramped inside. UBER, Pathao, Sohoz, OBHAI, etc. platform business boomed because of low motorcycle price in Bangladesh. There was a high alternate demand in middle class segment to avoid miserable public transport. These platforms tapped this opportunity. These services actually didn’t serve much. A huge number of extra vehicle moving into the city caused extra noise and chaos.

This reality leads to a valid question of how Bangladesh can manage public transport facility after resuming regular economic activity.

The answer lies in the nature of the problem. Social distancing guidelines and strict health safety measures will be needed to follow. That means no more jam packed public transportation. Therefore each vehicle will be in operation with only 40-50% of the capacity. This will surge the demand of more public transports. We will need to increase twice the number of public transport than what we currently have. It brings more challenges to the authority.

Amidst such mammoth challenge Bangladesh will see new opportunities as well. Businesses will try to cash onto this demand and launch new fleet of vehicles and vessels. Financial institution will invest more money into this sector because return on investment is guaranteed and downfall of demand is not in the horizon anytime sooner. Of course the cost of transportation will get higher for the city dwellers; then again the safety becomes the top priority and people are desperate to resume their economic activities.

We have already seen a rechargeable battery auto rickshaw owner of Bangladesh converted his vehicle by dividing the seats through curtain that ensures health safety. This prototype has become popular in West Bengal, India where hundreds of auto rickshaw followed the pattern. Such maneuver of the vehicle design might be coming for the larger modes like Bus, Train or Launch. Health and Hygiene must be prioritized.

Government can play a more pivotal role to finance public transport system. A detailed master plan is absolutely necessary to make our public transport more available, safer and affordable. A portion of the recent government announcement of nearly BDT 1 trillion incentive packages can go into this. Local conglomerates should take the opportunity to invest in the burgeoning sector. Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) projects should be extended and implemented with a long term vision.

Also the related industries like auto parts, tires, lubricants, paints, interior design & accessories, vehicle/vessel tracking system, e-ticketing system in public bus & Bangladesh railway and so many more will also enjoy growing demand. Investment can be done on those options as well. We can therefore hope to place an additional half a million direct employment to mass transport sector. BRTA license and permit must also be aligned with the core objective of reshaping the transport sector. Throughout the history we have seen how humans have rediscovered themselves at the time of crisis. This pandemic will surely push us to change public transportation once it for all.

2nd Feature of “Beyond Pandemic Series”

by- Abdullah Ishak Khan, works at Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority.  He can be reached at: [email protected]

Featured Image Courtesy: Click here…  Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune  


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