Due to the recent rise in fuel prices, transport fares have skyrocketed, putting pressure on passengers, especially students. Transport owners and workers have started a movement to demand higher fares due to rising fuel prices and at one point the government has agreed to increase their fares.
But since the increase in bus and other transport fares, there has been a kind of discomfort among passengers, especially among low-income people and students. Students usually travel by bus at half fare and this has been the practice for a long time although there are no specific rules in this regard, said bus owners and workers. But since the rise in fuel prices, transport workers and employers have been reluctant to accept half the rent from students. When bus owners and workers pressured the students to pay full rent instead of half rent, the students started protesting and took to the streets in protest. When a female student goes to pay half fare on the bus, the bus worker threatens to rape her, which makes the students angry and they start a movement. The accused have already been arrested and have been assured that they must be brought to justice.
There is already a transport crisis in Dhaka city for travel and if the pressure to increase fares is intensified then where will the common man and students go? The students are arguing that they have been paying half the rent for a long time now and now they are suddenly under a lot of pressure and many are unable to pay. Bus owners and workers, on the other hand, have stated that there are no rules or policies that require students to pay half the fare, so they cannot accept any responsibility for accepting it. Transport owners and workers claim that if they take half the fare from the students they should be at a loss and they will not be able to afford to live on the bus.
The students started their programme with a slogan titled "We Want Justice". Students feel that the rent they are being charged is a kind of oppression and a kind of pressure that they are not able to pay or that it is really hard for them to continue. Students from all over the country usually travel by bus with half fare and this is nothing new. The culture has been around for a long time. A culture that has been around for a long time cannot be abruptly abolished. Immediately after the rise in fuel prices, bus workers and owners started a movement and they were able to get their desired fares but all the pressure fell on the common man and especially the students. Since the independence of Bangladesh, the students have been agitating for half the bus fare and have succeeded. No specific law has been enacted in the last 50 years to guarantee half fare in public transport for students.
The students have been struggling for a long time to pay half the fare on public transport and the controversy has not abated. One of the 11-point demands made by the students of Dhaka University on the eve of the mass uprising of 1969 was to ensure half fare for students on public transport. In all types of public transport, including bus, train, launch and steamer, the demand for half-fare by the students was included in one of the 11 clauses and the then government of Pakistan was forced to implement it. The system has been in place for many years after independence and it has become a kind of custom or culture, but all of a sudden, when the plan to change it started, all sorts of controversies arose.
This long-standing tradition or culture has suddenly raised questions in the minds of the people as to why transport leaders and workers are trying to break it that has sparked resentment among students. Students demand that public transport fares have been increased as per the rules after the increase in fuel prices. Students also claim that they are willing to pay half of the increased fare but the bus owners are not willing to take it. After two students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin College were killed in a road accident in 2018, the students took to the streets and started a movement and at that time they made a demand to ensure half fare for them on public transport. The students raised nine demands at the time and one of the nine demands was to secure half the rent.
Earlier, Road Transport Minister Mr. Obaidul Quader had directed the public transport owners and workers to collect half fare from the students. Bangladesh Road Transport Act does not have any provision or rule of taking half fare from students due to which even the police cannot take any direct action against the transport workers and owners. People are financially strained due to the corona epidemic and many are now struggling to pay for their children's education. Rising commodity prices, on the one hand, and rising fuel prices, on the other, have created problems for common life, and experts have questioned whether it is reasonable to impose such pressure on students.
In many developed countries of the world students pay half the rent using their digital card and this culture exists not only in Bangladesh but in different countries of the world. The students basically have no income of their own and with the money they take from their parents they eat tiffin including public transport fare. Also, it is not safe to say that it is safe for the female students of public transport in Bangladesh to travel as there are many kinds of unpleasant incidents and female students are victim of abnormal situation.
Many times female students have to travel standing on public transport which often creates embarrassing situations for them. Although there is no provision in the Road Transport Act for students to pay half the fare on public transport, students are paying half the fare, which has become a kind of right. For a long time, students have been paying half the fare for public transport, so experts say that a new specific service policy should be incorporated in the Road Transport Act instead of canceling it directly. If there is a clear policy in this regard, there will be no chance of renewed quarrels or disputes between students and bus workers.
Many parents have lost their jobs and become poor due to the corona epidemic and their livelihoods have plummeted so they are really struggling to pay for their children's education. A special type of card can be issued to students in the state and students will be able to use the card to travel easily by paying half the fare on the bus and there will be no recurrence of dispute in this regard. Public transport fares for students should not only be halved but also public transport for female students should be safe and secure. Students of Dhaka city cannot walk to their institution because there is no walking environment in Dhaka city so they are forced to get on public transport.
There is no point in saying that students' demands are unreasonable because it is not a pity for them at all but it is their right and it is time to implement this right. The anarchy of public transport is nothing new and charging extra fare from passengers is not new. Disputes between passengers and contractors over public transport fares are a common occurrence and there should be specific policies in this regard. Considering the overall situation in the country, the common man thinks that it would be most appropriate and reasonable to halve the fare of public transport for students. The bus owners and workers will accept this logical demand of the students.
The writer is Assistant Professor, B A F Shaheen College, Kurmitola, Dhaka Cantonment.