Overnight fuel price hike throws lives and livelihoods into chaos

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Dhaka, Aug 06: Shahida Begum, a private employee, reached the Mirpur-10 bus stand in the capital at 8:30 am on Saturday to go to her Motijheel office as usual. While approaching the bus stand, all she could see was a horde of people eagerly waiting for a ride but there was none.

She found that the number of intracity buses plying on the Mirpur road was shockingly low and ones that were plying were overloaded with passengers. After a while, when a bus arrived at the stand, people stormed to get in.

After waiting for almost two hours, she could not board a bus. In distress, Shahida hired a CNG-run auto-rickshaw for Tk400, which should be around Tk250 on any other day.

Shahida Begum told this correspondent, “When the government announced the hike in diesel and octane prices on Friday night, I realised that bus fares will surely go up on Saturday. But I did not think of the public transport shortage.”

Like Shahida Begum, people across the country, including the capital, had to suffer immensely due to the unexpected fuel price hike. The lives and livelihoods of millions of people were thrown into chaos overnight.

In Dhaka, the number of intracity buses decreased significantly on Saturday morning.

Bus owners operated less than half the number of buses on the streets on Saturday following the massive hike in fuel prices.

Most bus operators in the country, including inter-district ones, have increased ticket fares following the government’s move to hike fuel prices.

To make matters worse, CNG-run auto-rickshaws, rickshaws (both paddle and battery-run), and ride sharers were seen taking advantage of the untoward situation by overcharging passengers.

Reporters of The Business Standard, from across the country, found that fares have jumped drastically on some routes while bus owners and workers of several destinations have partially or completely suspended operations and are making arrangements to charge travellers extra.

Commuters, mainly office-goers, suffered as there was barely any public transport available on the city streets. Hundreds were seen waiting at various intersections and bus stops in the vain hope of getting a ride. Demand for auto-rickshaws and rickshaws soared, and fares surged.

According to the bus drivers, most of the transport companies have taken out fewer buses on Saturday.

Moshin Bhuiyan, a resident from the Shonir Akhra area, had to wait for a couple of hours before he could manage a bus ride to his office in Moghbazar and had to pay Tk10 extra.

“Regular bus fare from my home to Moghbazar is Tk30. But the helper charged me Tk40 citing the fuel price hike,” Moshin said.

Only four out of 40 vehicles of Alternative Auto Service were operating on the city streets on Saturday. Driver Md Shamim said, “If such a situation continues, we will have to die of starvation. Everything will be costlier due to the fuel price hike.”

Fewer than 20 buses of the Mirpur Super Link were plying on the Mirpur-Azimpur route, whereas around 40 of its buses usually run on this route.

The driver of a Mirpur Super Link bus, Emdadul Haque, told TBS, “It cost me Tk2,700-2,800 for fuel for five trips. Now it costs more than Tk,4000.”

Mirpur-Jatrabari route’s Khajababa Ltd has 60 buses, out of which 15-20 were running on Saturday.

Bus driver Md Mithun told this correspondent that he could not handle the pressure of passengers since morning as on the one hand the owners have reduced the bus operation and the price of fuel oil has increased on the other.

“Earlier, fuel used to cost me Tk3,200 per day but now it costs about Tk5,000. However, fares have not been raised yet. A decision may be made today,” he added.

Shikar Paribahan operates 55 buses, out of which only 15 were running yesterday. The supervisor of the bus, Raju said that four trips used to cost around Tk3,300 earlier, but it is not yet clear how much it will cost.

“Fares may increase from Sunday. Every time when fares are raised, we get into trouble with the passengers. God only knows what will happen this time,” he said.

Ride-sharing motorcyclists in different areas of the capital were charging passengers Tk50 to Tk100 more fares than usual.

Shimul Ali came from Mirpur to Banglamotor on a ride-sharing motorcycle for Tk250 which is more than double the usual fare of Tk120.

Iqbal Talukder, who has been sharing a ride in Dhaka for almost three years, said, “The price of fuel oil is too high. What do we do? An increase of Tk10-20 is manageable but this is unacceptable. How will we survive? It is a big challenge to my livelihood.”

When contacted for comments regarding the current situation on Saturday morning, Dhaka Sarak Paribahan Malik Samity Joint Secretary Samdani Khondaker said, “Some bus owners have decided not to operate their vehicles as costs have gone up due to the fuel price hike, resulting in a low number of buses in the city.”

“However, a meeting between Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and transport owners will take place in the afternoon. Hopefully, everything will become normal after that,” he added.

In Munshiganj, the operation of long-haul buses almost came to a halt on Saturday morning adding to the woes of the passengers.

CNG-run auto-rickshaws and human hauliers operating via the Muktarpur bridge were seen charging Tk10 extra from commuters.

Mithun Saha, a passenger from Munshiganj, said, “I went to Narayanganj from the Muktarpur bridge paying Tk50 for a CNG ride on Friday. On Saturday, I was charged Tk60. A Tk10 increase in fare overnight.”

Amina Akhtar, who was forced to take a ride on a human haulier to reach her destination, said, “I left home thinking that I will get on a bus. However, there are none available this morning. Instead, I had to board a human haulier that charged me Tk10 extra than regular to reach Narayanganj.”

Amjad Hossain, an employee of Dighirpar Transport Line, said, “Our counters are now closed. Services will remain suspended until we fix the new fares.”

In Khulna, intercity bus fares have been hiked by almost 40-50%.

About 18 buses ply from the Sonadanga bus terminal in Khulna to other cities. Among them, bus fare on the Khulna-Paikgacha route has been increased to Tk150, up by Tk35.

On the other hand, the bus fare on the Khulna-Bagerhat route has been increased by Tk40 to Tk120, on the Khulna-Jashore route by Tk40 to Tk150, on the Khulna-Kushtia route by Tk70 to Tk350 and on the Khulna-Gopalganj route by Tk30 to Tk150.

Khulna District Bus-Minibus Coach Owners’ Association Joint Convenor Md Anwar Hossain Sona said, “The government has suddenly increased the price of fuel oil but did not increase public transport fares. It is not possible to buy fuel at such a high price and run a bus at the previous fare.”

Transport owners in Bogura, without any prior notice, have suspended all inter-district bus movement from Saturday morning.

According to local transport workers, bus service will remain suspended until an agreement on the new fares is reached.

Bus movement in Barishal, however, was normal but transport owners said that they would go on strike if the fares are not increased by Saturday.

In Netrokona, bus fares have been increased as a reaction to yesterday’s fuel price hike. The number of buses plying on the roads was very low compared to regular days.

Leaders of Netrakona Bus Malik Samity have claimed that they did not instruct anyone to charge passengers extra as they are waiting for the meeting between BRTA and bus owners.

However, transport workers are forcing commuters to pay Tk10-Tk50 more depending on the length of the trips.

In Cumilla, bus owners have said that they will maintain and follow the fares that are expected to be announced after the meeting between BRTA and transport leaders.

Bus services are normal in the district with passengers being charged at regular fares, Jamil Ahmed Khandkar, president of The Motors Association Cumilla, told The Business Standard.

In Moulvibazar, bus fare on the Dhaka-Moulvibazar route was hiked to Tk550 from the regular Tk430 effective from Saturday morning.

In Pabna, tickets for Pabna-Dhaka buses were being sold at Tk550 (non-AC) and Tk900 (AC) — a Tk100 rise in fares from Friday.

Meanwhile, bus fares in Lakshmipur, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Mymensingh, and Brahmanbaria are yet to see a surge. But the number of vehicles on the road has dropped significantly making passengers suffer to a great extent.

In Chattogram, a transport owners’ strike that was called off at around 1:55pm on Saturday, caused inconvenience to thousands of commuters.

The decision to embark on the strike was taken on Friday night, Belayet Hossain, president of the Chattogram Metropolitan Transport Owners Group, said, adding that bus owners have decided to resume services on BRTA’s request.

In Dinajpur, bus fares were not hiked after the fuel price hike. However, the presence of buses on the roads declined at an alarming rate.

Only a handful of buses were noticed plying the Dinajpur-Dhaka highway on Saturday, where 18-24 passenger buses used to ply every hour.

Mahesh Singh Chhutu, the bus chain master of the Govt College Intersection area of Dinajpur town, said, “As the price of fuel jumped, the owners are not willing to drive the buses at the previous fares. However, the fare has not increased yet. Normal fare is being charged.”

The government on Friday night increased fuel oil prices by 42.5% to 51.6%, highest in 20 years, dealing a big blow to people already overwhelmed by skyrocketing prices of essential goods amid record inflation.

The Energy and Mineral Resources Division hiked diesel and kerosene prices by Tk34 per litre to Tk114 and octane and petrol prices by Tk46 per litre to Tk135 and Tk130, respectively.

The new prices took effect at 12am on Saturday, said a press release of the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources issued Friday night.

The government announced the hike at a time when oil prices in the international market are on a downward trend. Brent crude price on Friday was $95.50/barrel. It had gone as high as $129/barrel several weeks back.

Sources at the Energy and Mineral Resources Division and Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) said the latest price hike is the highest since 2001.

The previous highest diesel price hike was by 37.5% on 27 October 2008; the new hike broke that record as the price went up by 42.5% and that of octane by 51.6%.

Diesel is the most consumed fuel in the country, accounting for around 73% of the country’s total fuel consumption.

Price hike of this fuel by 42.5% might have a disastrous impact on the transport and daily essential products as happened last November when the government increased the diesel price by 23.8%, said traders and industry people.