Passengers may not get the best out of 600 new BRTC buses bought recently as the state-run corporation has a track record of ruining the vehicles well before their ages hit double digits.
Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) in 2011 imported 255 Daewoo buses, including some spare parts, for $29.9 million. The vehicles were delivered in 2012 and 2013 but now only 138 of them are running, officials said.
The BRTC owns 1,445 buses, of which 921 are in service. Of the 524 out of service, 164 have to be written off and 360 need major repairs, said Almas Ali, a spokesperson for the corporation.
A lack of skilled mechanics, spare parts, inadequate maintenance, poor decisions made by the authorities, and corruption by a section of BRTC officials are to blame for the early demise of the buses, said officials concerned, wishing not to be named.
A private operator, however, said they find properly maintained buses to be financially viable for 10 to 20 years depending on brand and model.
The government has bought 600 buses and 500 trucks from India, with loans from the Indian government, and some of the vehicles have arrived and the rest are expected to join the BRTC fleet by April, officials said.
The new buses have been bought at a time when the state-run transport agency has incurred losses of over Tk 9 crore in the last two and a half years and arrears of drivers and staffers of 17 out of 21 depots remain unpaid for months.
The authorities said they suffered the losses as they had to implement a new pay scale for their staff and no new buses were included in the fleet in the last six years. Beside, the bus fare remained the same over the last few years.
But road safety campaigners and some staff said mismanagement and corruption by some BRTC officials were mainly to blame.
A manager of a BRTC bus depot said the corporation has a serious shortage of skilled mechanics and funds to repair the buses.
“We get money to buy spares months after requisitions are made and during that time the vehicles remain parked gathering dust.”
The manager, wishing not to be named, said procurement of “poor-quality buses” was hurting the BRTC operations.
A BRTC driver, however, claimed that corruption by depot managers was a major reason for the dilapidated condition of the buses.
“When a part needs replacement, the depot manager would make every effort to replace it with a used one. But he will make a bill for a new part,” the driver said.
Another driver said often buses are cannibalised for parts to keep other buses in service.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader while exchanging views with BRTC officials, including its chairman, on January 22, said, “BRTC vehicles are in this state due to a lack of repairs and maintenance.”
“New vehicles will arrive and commuters will get some relief. But for how long? I want to know for how long the vehicles will be operational?” he said.
PRIVATE OPERATORS DOING FINE
The Daily Star asked several BRTC officials how long the buses are supposed to last. However, none of them could say it.
But Romesh Chandra Ghosh, managing director of Shyamoli Paribahan Ltd, said Tata and Ashok Leyland buses are commercially viable for 15 years, subject to overhauling of the engines every three years.
Most of the buses in the BRTC fleet are made in India, mainly by Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland.
It takes around Tk 1 lakh or 1.50 lakh for each overhauling, said Romesh, who has 44 years of experience in the transport sector.
He said Japanese buses can be economically viable for 15-20 years while Korean buses more than 10 years.
Another transport businessman, wishing anonymity, said buses from India and Korea become inoperative within five to six years only when the BRTC runs them.
“Lack of timely and proper maintenance is the main reason behind it. In many cases, they would not use the required parts leading to further damage to the vehicles,” he said.
Talking to The Daily Star on January 30, BRTC Chairman Farid Ahmed Bhuiyan apparently blamed poorly selected make and model of the buses. “Spare parts have to be available for maintenance. If you don't have the facilities, you run into problems. That's exactly what happened with the Chinese buses.”
The corporation purchased 289 Chinese buses in 2012-13. At least 114 of them are out of service now, he said, adding that spare part for those buses were unavailable in the local market.
About the Daewoo buses, he claimed that the BRTC got only “four percent spare parts” with the vehicles and those were all used within 2016. Spares for Daewoo buses are costly and only one company in Bangladesh imports them, the BRTC chairman said.
Asked where poor decisions were made, he said, “Holding this post, I can't comment. However, issues of maintenance, availability of spare parts, and technology [used in the buses] should be kept in mind while purchasing buses.”
Sidestepping a question on the allegations of poor maintenance and corruption, he said they would start software-based fleet management system in two depots -- Gabtoli and Kalyanpur. The system would be introduced in other depots later, he said.
“Everything will be under proper monitoring, which will ensure proper maintenance.”
Software-based fleet management is an application that helps the authorities organise, manage, and coordinate work on vehicles from a central information system.
Farid said this time they were bringing in 10 percent spare parts with each of the new buses and that should enable them to service the vehicles for six years.
“If we can operate these buses smoothly for six years, we will be able to make up the losses,” he said, adding, “We hope that people will get proper service this time.”
BRTC Gabtoli Depot Manager Md Moniruzzaman yesterday said the software-based fleet management system has been implemented at his depot on February 1.
Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury, secretary general of Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, said, “People will not get the benefit of the new buses unless the BRTC operates the vehicles with professionalism.”
Until the irregularities and corruption in the BRTC are eradicated, things will not change much, he added.