EID-TIME travel has proved to be fatally risky. The Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh says that 339 people died and 1,265 became injured in 277 road accidents around Eid-ul-Fitr in 2018. This time, since Shab-e-qadr on Saturday, at least 18 people are reported to have died in road accidents. Passengers on the Bogura-Dhaka route suffered as transport workers’ union closed all long-route bus counters for 10 hours in protest at a mobile court fining a few transport companies for charging unreasonable fare. A photograph that New Age published on Sunday shows the risk that people took in boarding an inter-city train. Passengers were left languishing at the Kamalapur station for hours as trains ran behind schedule. After the Rangpur Express ran behind schedule by more than seven hours on Friday, the authorities ran another train in the same name from Rangpur the next day and it was again delayed by about an hour in departing from Dhaka. The claim of the roads transport and bridges minister that except for delay because of rainy weather, the Eid journey will be smooth is far from the truth.
The government has taken steps, including heightened highway patrol, running mobile courts against extra fare and digital train ticketing sales to ensure a safe and hassle-free journey for Eid-time passengers. Experts and passenger rights advocates, however consider them to be cosmetic and inadequate. The government may not suddenly guarantee a safe Eid-time journey without addressing the perennial problem in the transport sector. Investigation shows that accidents take place because drivers on the long route are overworked and exhausted. The prime minister earlier gave a directive for alternative drivers on long-route buses and ensure recess for drivers every five hours but the directive remained unimplemented. The authorities concerned blame the shortage of skilled drivers for the situation. Road Transport Authority records shows that 38.85 lakh registered motor vehicles are run by 20.35 lakh drivers with valid licences. Meanwhile, no major initiatives are taken to train new drivers. Similarly, the Bangladesh Railway does not have adequate carrying capacity to handle the huge Eid-time rush of passengers. The government should, therefore, address the persistent problems in the transport sector.
The government, under the circumstances, must urgently take up initiatives to improve and expand facilities so that more drivers can be properly trained to meet the demand for drivers. The railway system, generally regarded as hassle-free and safe, has largely been neglected in post-independence Bangladesh. To unburden the roads and highways, the government must overhaul the Bangladesh Railway by investing in its infrastructure development. To be more specific, the government must focus on bringing long-term changes in the transport sector.
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