THE death of two college students and the subsequent student protests for road safety have compelled all, from the government to bus owners associations, to take many steps, which included an end to contract system in bus operation. The Dhaka Road Transport Owners’ Association decision allows owners to take a fixed amount from the daily income of a bus while the staff get the rest. It will also guarantee transport staff fixed wages on a daily basis. The contract system leaves the drivers under extra pressure to get more passengers by beating other buses in the race on the same route and taking passengers from everywhere. In the July 29 accident, which killed the two students, the bus that ran over the students were in a race with two other buses. In April, a 22-year-old college student lost his hand after it had been stuck between two speeding buses and he died from his injuries later. There are other similar cases of death in recent months. However costly and delayed it is, the transport owners’ association decision to end this fatally flawed contract system is a welcome move.
The fatally flawed and corrupt public transport system continues to take lives of citizen as the government prepares to make a new road transport law. For years, road safety activists asked the government to set a fixed minimum wage for all transport workers so that they do not compete among themselves to earn their daily wage. However, the government did not heed the public demand and allowed public transports, especially in the capital, to operate under a contract system. The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority operations director at a briefing of the owners’ association termed the system ‘illegal’ and blamed the owners for having this system with a profiteering motive. He insisted that buses should run systematically under companies, by selling tickets. While it is true that bus owners have been compromising passengers’ safety over profit, authorities cannot deny their failure as they have allowed an illegal system to run for long. In reality, as passengers’ welfare groups argue, that vested interests involving bus owners, government officials and the police have profited from the contract system and obstructed any efforts to sorting out the flawed system.
It is commendable that the initiative came from the bus owners’ association and its members would check fitness certificates, route permits and driving licences of city service buses and their drivers at starting points. However, it is the responsibility of the government, and not of bus owners, to ensure that buses ply the road with fitness certificates and drivers have the licences. The government must, therefore, enforce a minimum wage for transport workers and ensure its implementation to prevent fatal completion on the road and exploitation of transport workers by transport companies.
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