Dhaka's public bus system reflects a state of disarray, familiar yet disheartening for its residents. Despite the presence of long-standing bus service operators, the majority of buses ply the roads in deplorable conditions—damaged, scratched, and dysfunctional. The lack of oversight is glaring.
The operational chaos extends beyond the physical state of the buses. Ticketing services are nonexistent, buses halt arbitrarily, even obstructing traffic lanes without consideration for vehicles behind them. Conductors arbitrarily set fares, disregarding any established fare chart. This disorderly conduct isn’t confined to mere inconvenience; it translates into dangerous road competitions, resulting in clashes and, tragically, injuries to passengers. Buses jostle to reach stops first, emphasizing a cutthroat mentality.
Adding to the precarious situation is the blatant disregard for safety regulations. Buses, despite claiming to offer seated services, routinely exceed their standing capacity. Passengers can often be observed hanging precariously from the doors, a stark illustration of the absence of regulation and order within this sector.
Dhaka Bus Route Map
Various bus routes in Dhaka connect different neighborhoods and landmarks across the city. From the Gabtoli to Jatrabari route to connections between Mirpur and Abdullahpur, the chart presents a detailed overview of the bus network. Key areas such as Farmgate, Gulshan, and Sadarghat are included, offering a comprehensive understanding of navigating Dhaka’s public transportation system.
In Dhaka city, over 20% of privately-operated buses lack valid fitness certificates, revealing a concerning lapse in safety standards. According to BRTA data, out of 3974 buses from 75 companies with the necessary route permits, 871 buses (21.92%) lack fitness clearances. Despite the government’s 2019 initiative to streamline bus routes and limit service providers, only three of the 42 reshaped routes have been implemented.
The prevalence of unfit vehicles poses risks not only to other road users but also heightens vulnerability for pedestrians in Dhaka. Drivers of unauthorized vehicles, aware of their perceived influence, tend to operate recklessly. This not only jeopardizes public safety but also contributes to significant time wastage, as highlighted by a Brac Institute of Governance and Development study estimating daily traffic congestion to consume five million working hours, costing the country $11.4 billion annually.
Other than the private bus service providers, different government agencies have taken different initiatives to solve Dhaka’s mass transit problem – starting with Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) Bus Services back in 1999 to the recently formed Bus Route Rationalization Committee in September 2018.
Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) and Double-Decker Buses
BRTC, in an attempt to ease urban commute in Dhaka, introduced double-decker buses. 49 of the 50 Volvo double-deckers that the BRTC purchased in 2001 with financial aid from Sweden have been sold. For the government, each of the cozy buses had cost BDT 12 million ($0.21 million in average 2001 exchange rate), which was quite costly. The buses were a welcome addition to the BRTC fleet for city commuters. However, after six or seven years, the Volvo buses started becoming inoperable as a result of inadequate maintenance and repairs and were eventually sold off later on, since spare parts for those Volvo buses were too expensive, according to BRTC officials.
From a policy perspective, the procurement of buses that BRTC does not have the financial capacity to maintain might be questionable. But there are claims that due to inadequate maintenance and repairs, the BRTC buses become unusable earlier than expected. The average lifespan of a privately owned bus is more than that of a BRTC bus, which is typically in service for 12 to 15 years. It’s even less in certain situations.
In total, between 1999–2000 and 2019–2020, BRTC acquired 2,214 buses at an estimated cost of BDT 1,300 crore from Pragati Industries Ltd. and various companies in India, Sweden, South Korea, and China. For $29.9 million, Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) imported 255 Daewoo buses in 2011. A total of 138 of the vehicles that were delivered in 2012 and 2013 were still operational in 2019. As of May 31, 2022, the company operated a fleet of 1,600 buses, of which 1,262 were in use, 233 required extensive maintenance, and 105 were classified as BER.
For imported articulated buses from India, there has been no significant change. Occasionally purchased from India, the Ashok-Leyland double-deckers have formed the mainstay of the BRTC fleet.
There are multiple explanations for why repeatedly BRTC is having to scrape buses earlier than expected. The main causes of BRTC buses being taken out of service are a shortage of qualified mechanics, shortage of spare parts, poor maintenance, and negligence on the part of some BRTC personnel. On the other hand, BRTC’s modality of operating those buses is not the most helpful for maintenance purposes. BRTC started leasing out its buses to private transport operations under the BRTC Bus Lease Regulation 2007. Private operators might not have proper maintenance of the buses in their best interest. However, according to the Ministry of Communication’s directives, BRTC stopped leasing out buses in 2013. Later in 2017, a government bill allowed BRTC to lease out its buses and services.
Efforts of the City Corporations
The City Corporations of Dhaka stepped in to solve the mass transportation issue of Dhaka. The efforts to introduce modern bus services in Dhaka were taken as early as 2016.
Dhaka Chaka & Gulshan Chaka
Gulshan, Banani and nearby areas where private buses do not have permission to enter were brought under the service of Dhaka Chaka in 2016, with 20 polished air-conditioned buses, with 20 more to be added later. The success of Dhaka Chaka has inspired the inauguration of other premium air-conditioned bus services such as Gulshan Chaka, Green Dhaka etc.
Former Dhaka North mayor Annisul Huq took the first initiative in 2016 for the operation of bus services under a single company. The then 291 bus routes within Dhaka were merged into 42, with a plan to be grouped in six clusters, each having different colors of buses, green, blue, pink etc. With all buses being under a single company, the competition to pick passengers and stopping here and there would not be there, and establishing a proper ticketing system and maintaining stoppage would be much easier.
Later, in 2018 a Bus Route Rationalization Committee was formed to realize the plan. The Bus Route Rationalization Committee’s plan was to introduce a single bus service named “Nagar Paribahan ” under the supervision of the city corporation and for all buses to be operated through Nagar Paribahan, by leasing them from the current operators. The pilot program started with the capital’s Ghatarchar to Kanchpur route (Route 21) where all buses other than Nagar Paribahan were announced illegal and other buses on that route were asked to lease their buses to Nagar Paribahan. Nagar Paribahan has specific bus stoppages and ticketing systems. However, the other operators on that route didn’t stop their service and resisted Nagar Paribahan’s plan. Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA)’s report on the Nagar Paribahan pilot project mentioned that the major obstacle was these unauthorized buses and unhappy drivers, even though the passengers were happy with the service. Despite its limitations, Nagar Paribahan launched on 2 new routes in October 2022, the new routes being Ghatarchar to Demra Staff Quarter (Route 22) and Ghatarchar to Kadamtoli (Route 26). The green cluster, which is made up of eight routes after merging 54 previous lines, includes the three routes (21, 22 and 26) that have been launched thus far. Nagar Paribahan has 150 buses on routes 21, 22, and 26 and is anticipated to add 50 more buses to the Ghatarchar and Uttara Diabari routes in five months. It has also been complementing the service of Metro Rail, by providing connectivity with Uttara North metro station.
DTCA’s earlier proposal involved 22 companies operating 42 routes, instead of a single company and clustering the routes into 9 clusters, instead of 6. The Bus Route Rationalization Committee later opted for a Bus Route Franchise system with private operator Trans Silva contributing 20 buses to a route that lacked interest from the other operators for joint ventures.
Going Forward with Bus Route Franchise
The authorities announced that stringent steps will be implemented to guarantee the caliber of passenger service and maintain order by eliminating impediments in city transportation. Despite Dhaka Nagar Paribahan facing backlash from vested quarters, Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) mayor announced that 100 electric buses will be added to the fleet of Nagar Paribahan.
However, the ability of Nagar Paribahan to withstand the unfair competition brought forth by the outdated buses worries the passengers. According to bus owners and employees, these vehicles pick up and drop off people between stations, obstructing the path of Nagar Paribahan buses and increasing their losses. The new service is hampered by their careless driving. The fact that Nagar Paribahan only picks up and drops off passengers at predetermined stops sets it apart from other bus services.
Route 21, previously involving private operator Trans Silva buses, is now completely reliant on BRTC and Nagar Paribahan buses since Trans Silva’s withdrawal from the service. On the other hand, Hanif Paribahan buses operate on route 22. They began with thirty buses, even though it was believed that they would increase the number of buses to fifty on this route. The number of buses has now been reduced to 10–12 instead.
The attempts to rationalize Dhaka’s bus routes have been facing resistance from vested quarters. However, the inauguration of Metro Rail has opened up alternative avenues for Dhaka’s population to commute, a much faster and safer one. If private bus operators are hellbent on not complying with the plan to rationalize Dhaka’s bus routes, Dhaka might be better off with premium public bus services like Dhaka Chaka and Gulshan Chaka, owned and operated by the City Corporations. Well, at least that has proven to be useful for one part of the city. Rather than relying on private operators to comply, it might be easier to beat them in a market competition with better service. Dhaka’s private bus services are not up to the mark either. For now, we know that 100 electric buses might be introduced as the DNCC mayor announced.
About the Author
Umme Farzana Rupa, a former debater, currently excelling as a passionate student at Bangladesh University of Professionals. Engaging communicator and dedicated learner, she continues to thrive in academics, leaving her mark on campus with her inquisitive spirit and determination