On March 26, Bangladesh imposed a travel ban on all modes of transports including rail, road, air, and waterways, except for emergency vehicles across the country to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. So far, the government continued the shutdown of public transports until May 30 in keeping with the nationwide shutdown because of rise of corona virus related cases. As per the Road Transport Act in Bangladesh, it considered that any motorized vehicle transporting paying customers would be counted as public transport. Interestingly, the rickshaws were not considered as motorized vehicles and did not count as a public transport while banning the commercial passenger vehicles those included as buses, taxis, auto rickshaws, and human haulers (e.g., Nasimon, Korimon). However, trucks and covered vans carrying medicines, emergency services, fuel, and perishable goods were exempted from the travel ban. According to the recent published data from Bangladesh Road Transport Authority in 2019, there were 3,606,000 number of buses registered across the country. Buses opt to be the main mode of transport both for inter and intra city public transportation system of the country. Additionally, human haulers, baby taxis, taxis, and some covered vans sometime carry paying passengers that are not documented. In order to compensate the exert pressures of people traveling from other districts towards Dhaka by these informal transports, it is also recommended that they should ensure the safety measures recommended in this article.
Once the travel ban impose is lifted, most of the vehicles will be hitting the road across the country in order to provide public accessibilities. Even, we are observing, people are continuing to use various modes of public transports on the road except buses. Now, with the restrictions being eased eventually, more people are being encouraged to get back to work and the primary mode of transport will be the public transits. Governments in most of the developed countries including the USA, UK, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Singapore, and Japan are encouraging people to avoid public transports and consider walking or cycling to and from the work place. However, if the people do not have access to the non-motorized transits, what are the associated risks remain in buses and trains? Millions of workers who has left Dhaka city before the lockdown are now planning to get back in Dhaka for their works. Moreover, according to the Sustainable Urban Transportation Index, in the Greater Dhaka Metropolitan Area (DMA) there are 152 bus routes and 44.7% of the daily trips are occurred mainly related to work and 17.7% trips are related to school. Among all the public transit modes available in the DMA, buses are contributing approximately 64% of the passenger trips. Moreover, approximately 21 million commuters are commuting everyday only in Dhaka city in approximately 7000 buses operated by 190 companies. This means, a safe and secured public transportation is in demand once the relaxation of transit systems appears country wide.
Now the question remains if the buses and trains are safe to deliver regular services. A lot of potential risks of infection on buses and trains depends on how crowded they are, and how far they can ensure the physical distancing inside and outside of the vehicles. This applies both on the vehicles and at stops and stations. Additionally, the water transportation system is required to maintain the same physical distancing when they are in full operation in order to combat the community transmission of the virus. An advantage may remain in Bangladesh as the public transit vehicles offer an open window strategy that can play a natural ventilation for fresh air that can help droplets containing the virus dissipate faster. It is worthwhile to note that Coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales small droplets packed with the virus into the air. The droplets can enter the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth, either directly or indirectly mostly through hands after touching a contaminated object (e.g., passenger seats, door handles, etc.). However, it is crucial to ensure safe distances in between passengers and to disinfect the vehicle after completing a trip. In a densely populated country with high demand of public transits seems very difficult to safeguard the passengers. In this regard, some important advice may be considered as followed in many countries now as recommended by the government: (i) encouraging the travellers to travel at off-peak times; (ii) urging people to take less busy routes and reducing the number of changes during the commuting time; (iii) inspiring travellers to wait for other passengers to get off first before boarding the vehicle; (iv) assisting a 2 meter (6 feet) distance away from people where possible; and (v) washing the commuters’ hands for at least 20 seconds after completing the journey before doing anything.All the buses should keep sanitizing facilities inside the bus and may charge the passenger a small amount for that. Some organizations are recommending that traveller should carry hand sanitizer with them to disinfect their hands quite often. Furthermore, using masks and gloves may help combating the spread of virus in the commuting time.
Safety measures for ensuring a safe travel for commuters are not only safeguarded by the commuter themselves but also it is critical for the operators to confirm and enhance safety measures. Measures from the operators will augment the safety of staffs (e.g., drivers, conductors, cleaners, ticket sellers, etc.) and passengers around the country and Dhaka city. In this regard, operators can install hand sanitizers inside the vehicle and in the ticket stations with rigorous cleaning schedule for disinfecting the vehicle and ticket counters. In case of London, the United Kingdom, the operators have predicated that they can carry 13-15% of its normal number of passengers by taking precautions delivered by the government. However, Dhaka is not prepared to take those extra precautions at this point of time by ensuring the increase of number of buses and commuter trains. In this situation, security guards trained in crow control may be introduced in order to restrict any unwanted situation, especially at the ticketing counters before boaring the vehicle. Furthermore, driver and staffs should be given appropriate training for restricting the number of people inside the vehicle. Additionally, government may specify number of routes the buses can ply upon identifying less number of stoppage. Under this situation, commuters may need to split their trips into more walking and less riding attitude in order to help their own community for not spreading the novel Covid-19. Moreover, public health guidelines should be strictly followed both by passengers and operators until further government notice is specified after the commuting ban is over. Likewise, until a vaccine or treatment for Covid-19 is found, transportation operators and relevant stakeholders should consider running the services as per the instructions of the government.
1. Dr. Khan Rubayet Rahaman is an Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, St. Mary’s University, Halifax, NS Canada; can be reached at [email protected]
2. Dr. Md. Taibur Rahman is a development planner, a civil servant of Bangladesh, currently working in UNDP Bangladesh on lien; can be reached at [email protected]
BDST: 1924 HRS, MAY 21, 2020