When all road transport services including buses and minibuses are about to resume operations from tomorrow, people planning on availing ride-sharing services in the capital and other major cities will have to contend with bad news.
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) has asked all service providing companies -- like Pathao, Uber and Shohoz -- to keep their operations suspended until further notice, citing the country's Covid-19 situation.
"We sent the letter in this regard to all service providing companies [12 companies] yesterday," Lokman Hossain Mollah, director (engineering) of BRTA told The Daily Star today.
The letter did not mention any specific reason and Lokman declined to give further details about the letter. The Daily Star could not reach the BRTA chairman over phone despite repeated attempts.
However, a BRTA official said authorities decided to halt their operations as most vehicles under ride-sharing services are motorcycles and maintaining safety and physical distancing might be difficult for the passengers and riders.
Ride-sharing services, which are popular in the capital and some major cities, were suspended from March 26 when the government enforced a shutdown of most public and private offices as well as public transport, to contain the spread of Covid-19.
On Thursday, the government announced the reopening of all offices and public transport on a limited scale while following necessary health safety guidelines from today. Train and launch services have already resumed in the morning and bus services will resume tomorrow.
Asked about the decision, Maliha M Quadir, founder and managing director of Shohoz, one of the major ride-share service providers, said they received the letter, but the government should allow them to resume services.
"People will prefer ride sharing services than any other public transport in this time because ride sharing is safer than buses and other public transports," she told The Daily Star today.
Asked about the safety of motorbike services, she said riders and service seekers are both wearing masks, so the chances of virus transmission are low.
She said they got the letter last night and will talk with other service providing companies before giving their response to BRTA.
A spokesperson for Uber told The Daily Star, "Over the past two months, Uber has been urging riders and drivers to stay at home to help contain the spread of Covid-19. Now, as cities all over the world start to open, we remain committed to providing safe and convenient transport.
"As we resume services in all countries we operate in, we have instituted safety measures such as distributing PPEs to drivers, building multiple layers of accountability in our app, including technology-led checks on mask use, safety checklists, limiting the number of passengers per vehicle and restricting geographies and times of operation as per relevant government guidelines.
Our goal is to provide a safe experience for riders; and supporting driver partners with earning opportunities. Safety is our top priority and we have recently spearheaded the formation of a Transport Safety Alliance (TSA) to generate safety awareness amongst consumers, and to equip drivers with health and safety supplies. We hope authorities will allow Uber's ridesharing services that are safe and can effectively help our communities on the path to recovery," the spokesperson added.
Sayeda Nabila Mahabub, director (marketing and public relations) at Pathao, said, with the Pathao app and commuting services having been suspended for the past two months, they have observed that ride sharing services have already resumed by way of offline, solicited trips.
"As such, ridesharing users are denied access to safe, secure rides with appropriate health measures in place, and are having to turn to more unsafe options like offline trips or to other forms of public transportation where social distancing cannot be properly maintained," she told The Daily Star.
"Therefore, in the greater interest of the health, safety, and convenience of commuters, we urge BRTA to allow the resumption of Pathao's ridesharing services on June 1, in line with its instructions for other forms of public transportation," she added.
She said Pathao has consistently been taking necessary steps in making sure that safety is ensured in these times, and their multifaceted precautions include use of safety gear for the riders such as facemasks, hand-sanitisers, disinfectants, and hand gloves.
They are also providing proper training to the drivers regarding hygiene and carrying out regular health check-ups, she said.