The Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association has demanded that bus fares be doubled if they are to maintain safety protocols and social distancing in the vehicles, as the lockdown on public transport is lifted on Monday. At a time when lower and middle classes are already struggling to weather the economic hardships brought about by Covid-19, this demand is inconsiderate, to say the least. Passengers, an overwhelming majority of whom are likely to be hard-strapped for disposable income in this crisis, will find it difficult, if not impossible, to bear this additional expense. Moreover, we would like to remind both the bus owners and the government that this is a temporary arrangement, but prices, once increased, are likely to be permanent, even when we return to normalcy.
We urge the government to be mindful of the immense financial burdens of people in lower income brackets as the economy braces for a recession, and to take every possible to step to ease their daily sufferings. According to a recent study by the Power and Participation Research Centre and Brac Institute of Governance and Development, incomes of the ultra-poor, moderately poor and vulnerable non-poor in Bangladesh have fallen by 70 percent due to the coronavirus outbreak. The lower middle and middle income households have also seen a drastic reduction in their incomes, with thousands unemployed or suffering losses in their small businesses. Under the circumstances, rather than pass on the buck to commuters, bus owners should step up and take on the additional burden. Let this be their contribution to the economy—and to the people—during this unprecedented economic crisis. Additionally, with oil prices having drastically fallen in the international market, we see no reason why bus owners should not be allowed to reap its benefits and save operational costs.
We also worry that bus owners will use this excuse of maintaining social distance to hike costs but will continue to fill the buses to their full capacity. The transport sector, unfortunately, has not been held to account for its many misdeeds over the years, but this lack of accountability and monitoring must end if we are to ensure any semblance of safety for passengers, many of whom are likely to belong to groups who are at higher risk of contracting the virus.