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Desperate for survival, bikers share rides ‘going beyond rules’

On-demand ride-sharing platforms have seen a dramatic rise since 2016 as a means of living for many and a support for a faster commuting across the capital until Covid-19 pandemic hit the country hard in March.

The commuters suffered but not as much as the people who solely relied on it to make a living. 

On March 26, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) sent a letter to ride-sharing companies to suspend their activities in various divisional cities, including Dhaka. Since then, the online motorcycle ride-sharing service remained suspended.

Although Uber, Pathao and other platforms have resumed car ride-sharing, those who use two-wheelers on demand have not yet been allowed to start their service officially.

Out of desperation, these bikers are forced to compete for passengers at various points across the city with no regulation. 

Shahadat, a National University graduate, was seen waiting and shouting desperately for passengers in the city’s Hatirjheel area alongside others who are operating ‘offline’. According to him, the risk of losing livelihood is more frightening than losing the life. 

“We know the risk but we’ve got no other choice. I tried to stay indoors for two months but all my savings have run out and now my family in the countryside is suffering, too. So, I’ll have to go out every day from now on,” he told UNB. 

Another biker, seeking anonymity, said most of those who shared motorbike rides earned around Tk 1,000 a day before the pandemic hit. “Now, we struggle to take Tk 200 home. We can’t earn enough to pay even for the oil cost,” he said. 

A similar picture was seen in Moghbazar and Banglamotor areas where passengers were found bargaining with bikers. 

Abdul Kayum, a government employee, was among them who said although the offices have opened, it is not at all safe to venture out. “We don’t really have any choice. Taking the bus is even riskier and car rides are too expensive. So, I need to rely on bikers. But they too are asking for increased fare,” he said.

One of the riders in Banglamotor area claimed that the fare they are asking for each ride is not much compared to other transports.   

“Just have a look at our condition. Not too many people are eager to take a bike ride and the mother companies like Uber and Pathao still haven’t informed us about resuming the service,” said Motalib Hossain, a father of two and lives in Tejgaon area. 

He also noted that some of the bikers have started making daily trips at a fixed rate. “None of the profit goes to the companies. Some bikers are not even registered with any platform.”

Uber, Pathao, Sohoz and Obhai are some of the leading ride-sharing platforms of the country. However, all of them have stopped the motorbike ride-sharing service since late March and focused on courier, groceries and food delivery services instead. 

Currently, over one lakh bikes are registered with these platforms while many more are operating on their own. 

According to Pathao helpline, now only car service is available for commuting and the date of resuming bike ridesharing is still unknown.

Country Head of AO Foundation (Trauma) in Bangladesh Prof Dr M Amjad Hossain said taking motorbike rides with unknown people will only increase the risk of contracting coronavirus of both the driver and passenger.  “The safe distance of 6 feet can’t be ensured in a bike ride,” he said. 

As of Sunday, 2,76,549 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in Bangladesh while 3,657 succumbed to the disease as the virus prevalence still remains widespread across the country.

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