Taxi service is the most used and popular mode of transportation in any city of the world. Although the worldwide popularity of taxi services has slightly decreased due to ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, taxis are still one of the most preferred modes of transportation in almost all cities. But Bangladesh is the only exception. In terms of population, Dhaka is the 6th largest megacity in the world, but it doesn’t have any taxi service in recent days. Although during 2014-15, some yellow taxis were seen on Dhaka street, now they are hardly seen at all. But what exactly is the reason that taxicabs are not seen at all on the streets of Dhaka or Chittagong?
It is not known exactly when the taxi service started in Bangladesh, but according to the information of Daily Star, in 1997, then the government announced to introduce of taxi service for the first time in Bangladesh. In view of this, the first Taxicab Services Policy Guideline 1998 was formulated in 1998. Following this, a taxi service was started in Dhaka in 1999 with few cabs. Before this, baby taxis were the most popular means of transportation in Dhaka, but some private taxis were also being operated. But as there was no policy & demand, there were no major taxi service providers as well. Due to this, people used baby taxis more for transportation. At the end of 2001, the then government banned 40,000 petrol-powered two-stroke autorickshaws or baby taxis from Dhaka. In contrast, 12,000 CNG-powered autorickshaws and 10,000 taxicabs were allowed on the streets of Dhaka. Following this, a total of 11,260 taxicabs, including 4513 air-conditioned yellow taxis and 6747 non-air-conditioned black taxis, were brought down in Dhaka and Chittagong streets. Most of the 6,450 non-AC cabs plying Dhaka’s roads were 800-cc Maruti and Tata cars imported from India. Later, blue color CNG-powered non-AC taxicabs were also approved on Dhaka roads. However, the build quality of Maruti and Tata’s 800cc cars imported from India was not that good. Especially in Dhaka, cars start to break down within a few years due to the damaged and bumpy road conditions.
According to a BRTA source, by 2007, 18 taxicab companies had a total of 10,000 vehicles registered in Dhaka. According to a 2007 report by the Daily Star, during that period, the number of operational cabs dropped to 3,000 out of about 11,000 registered cabs in the country. According to another report in October 2008, only 6 of the registered cab companies were operating at that time. Meanwhile, BRTA proposed to amend the Taxicab Services Policy Guideline 1998 in late 2008 as taxi services in the country did not achieve the expected success. As a result of which, Taxicab Services Policy Guideline 2010 was released in November 2010. According to the new policy, the minimum engine capacity for AC and Non-AC is fixed at 1500 cc. Besides, under this policy, two types of cabs, “Air Conditioned and Economy,” are mentioned. As per the new policy, while the color of Air Conditioned taxicabs is fixed entirely yellow, the color of CNG-powered non-AC cabs is fixed as blue in the case of economy cabs. Apart from this, the fare has been increased for AC-operated cabs by BDT 60 for the first two kilometers, BDT 15 for every subsequent kilometer, and a waiting charge of BDT 3.75 for every 2 minutes. On the other hand, non-AC cabs were charged BDT 50 for the first two kilometers, BDT 12 for every subsequent kilometer, and a waiting charge of BDT 3 for every 2 minutes. However, the increased fare was applicable only to new taxicabs registered under the Taxicab Services Policy Guideline 2010. Earlier cabs could not charge this increased fare.
As reported in the Daily Star in 2011, there were 11,260 taxicabs registered under the Taxicab Services Policy Guideline 1998, but only 2,000 were operating. Others were rejected for failing the fitness standards. In late 2011, a company called Karnaphuli Works Ltd was supposed to roll out 1,000 taxicabs, but later it did not materialize. Because the new policy made it mandatory for any taxi cab company to operate a fleet of at least 1000 1500 cc cabs instead of 20 cabs in the previous policy. Meanwhile, around 2014, the government plans to start taxi services again on the roads of Dhaka and Chittagong and increases the fares. Although the new fare was initially set at BDT 100 for the first two kilometers and Tk 34 for every subsequent kilometer, later on the instructions of the Prime Minister, the fare for the first two kilometers was fixed at Tk 85. As a result, in April 2014, 19 Toma Taxis and 27 Trust Transport Services’ AC Yellow taxis were allowed to operate taxicabs in Dhaka and Chittagong. At that time, the government’s direction to the two companies was to gradually increase the number of cabs and operate around 650 cabs on the roads of Dhaka and Chittagong. As a result of which, both companies increased their number of vehicles. The number of Toma service vehicles increased to 250, and the number of trust vehicles increased to 175. Among the 175 taxis of the trust, 100 were first launched in Dhaka and 50 in Chittagong. Later, 25 more taxis and 50 from Chittagong were brought to Dhaka to handle the passenger pressure. But there was a lot of dissatisfaction among passengers about the new service. Mainly there were not enough cabs compared to the demand, unprofessional behavior of drivers and reluctance to follow meter-fare despite the new fares being almost doubled from the previous fares.
In 2015, the journey of ride-sharing in Bangladesh started with Pathao. Later global ride-sharing giant Uber started their operation in Bangladesh and became popular in a short period. In 2018, Toma service was operating 250 taxis while Trust service was operating 175 taxis. Trust or Toma Taxi, none of their websites are functional anymore. The last activity of a Trust Taxi page on Facebook was around 2015-16. Apart from this, several passenger complaints are also seen on the page. When calling Trust Taxi’s call center for cab booking, the operator often says that there is no taxi available at the passenger’s pick-up location. So, Taxi cabs are hardly seen on the streets of Dhaka.
What Happened to Taxi Service
According to a Daily Star report published in 2004, there was public dissatisfaction with taxi service from the beginning. Firstly, due to the lack of planned taxi stands, commuters often had to wait for half an hour or more to find a taxi. Even calling the taxi services, the residents of the city could not get a taxi on time. Taxi drivers often did not want to go to many areas of Dhaka, especially Motijheel or Old Dhaka, with an excuse of traffic congestion. Apart from this, the passengers also complained about unprofessional behavior against the drivers, issues with AC operation, bad vehicle condition, and dirty interior. As the taxi service was introduced right after the baby taxis were banned in 2001, many of these baby taxi drivers went on to work as taxi drivers. But due to a lack of prior experience and no training arrangements for drivers from taxi operator companies, they could not provide the kind of service that passengers expect in terms of taxi services.
On the other hand, Dhaka’s dilapidated and bumpy roads and imported taxi cabs are responsible for the vehicle’s fitness and condition. Because the build quality of Maruti and Tata’s 800cc cars imported from India as economy cabs were not that good. Especially in Dhaka’s road condition, cars start to wear out faster. Meanwhile, due to the high cost of parts and the need for maintenance after a few days, it was not profitable for the taxi cab companies to repair the vehicles repeatedly and bring them into service. Due to this, most of the taxi cabs in the country became inactive after 2007. Besides, in 2010, the then government started the construction of the Jatrabari-Gulistan flyover, Banani overpass, Mirpur-Banani flyover, and Kuril flyover in Dhaka. Due to this, traffic congestion in Dhaka started to increase. It takes about 3-4 hours to travel from Motijheel to Uttara, only 14 km in this congested city. The more rides a taxi can provide, the more profit the company makes. But due to the traffic jam, it was not possible to give many rides on the streets of Dhaka. Due to this, operating a taxi service was not very profitable for the companies. As a result, taxi companies and businessmen in the transport sector were not very interested in investing in taxi services. Rather, since 2014, the increase in the number of other public transportation modes, such as buses, suggests that transport businesses have subsequently invested more in bus services.
The policies adopted for taxicabs in Bangladesh were not practical in many cases. Also, those conditions were difficult to fully comply with in many cases. First of all, considering the road conditions of Dhaka, it should not be allowed to allow Indian cars with 800 cc engine capacity on this road. Later, while a minimum engine capacity of 1500 cc vehicles was prescribed for taxi services, it was stipulated that a minimum of 1000 cabs should be imported for operating taxi services. However, under the previous policy, taxi services could be operated by importing 20 cabs. Importing such a large number of taxi cabs at once is a big investment for any organization, considering that no importer was keen to import such a large number of taxis. Apart from maintaining a large fleet, companies are required to maintain a control room equipped with radio & telephone, cell phones, and GPS to maintain constant communication with the taxicabs. So, establishing and maintaining a taxi cab service would not have been a profitable business model. Especially due to traffic congestion in Dhaka, it would have been very difficult to maintain profitability by following such policies for taxis. In addition, in 2014, when Trust and Toma taxis were launched under the government’s sponsorship, modern services such as apps and websites were not given the same importance. Rather, the system of calling a taxi by phone was going on as before. Although Trust and Tama Taxi come up with their own websites but currently, none are functional.
Around 2016, app-based ride-sharing platforms started operating one by one in the country. After Pathao Uber, platforms like Sohoj, and OBhai started offering ride-sharing services, the government formulated the ride-sharing policy. For ride-sharing platforms, the base fare for the first 2 km is BDT 60 and an additional BDT 15 per km thereafter, along with a waiting charge of BDT 3.75 per 2 minutes, which was originally modeled on the Taxicab Policy 2010. But this fare was lower than the fare fixed for taxicabs in 2014. These services quickly gained popularity due to the advantages of lower fares, and professional drivers compared to taxi drivers. Also, it was easy to find rides in a short time through mobile apps. Due to this, even though taxi services are supposed to increase cabs, the companies have not reinvested in front of this new competition.