Human hauler operators in hot water as cops turn up the heat
The Independent, BD: With the traffic week being extended by another seven days and law enforcement personnel becoming increasingly vigilant, owners and drivers of tempos, customised public auto-rickshaws that ply on Dhaka’s streets, are in the soup. Around 2,500 of these three-wheelers ply on the capital’s roads on a regular day, but following the student-led protests for safer roads, most of them have been withdrawn as the owners fear they may have cases slapped on them or that the tempos may be seized by the traffic police. The reason for this is that barring a few, none of the tempos actually have any fitness papers and their drivers have no licences. There are reasons, however, behind such dearth of legal documents. From the interviews this correspondent conducted with over 20 drivers and helpers, it was found that the average age of a tempo driver is 16 years, and the average age of the helper tends to be around eight.
Both tempo drivers and helpers tend to be too young to have legal driving licences, which is why so few of them have their papers in order. And that is why they avoid check-posts like the plague.
Monu, a 19-year-old driver of a tempo on the Jhigatola–Farmgate route, told The Independent that he started driving four years ago. “Before that, I worked as a helper for three years. My ‘ustad’ (the driver) trained me while I was working as a helper,” he said.
A tempo that travels the route from Jhigatola to Farmgate can make around Tk. 220 per ride. Usually, a tempo can make that trip 12 to 15 times a day, depending on traffic. However, from each of these trips, the driver gets a meagre Tk. 35 to 50, and the helper gets just Tk. 10 to 20 per trip.
The helper gets one more benefit: driving lessons. This ensures that one day, he will grow up to do the same job. There are no formal driving tests, only a sort of informal apprenticeship. This is how the tempo business is running—and has turned into a never-ending cycle.
Idris Ali, owner of three tempos on the Hazaribagh–Moneshwar Road line, told The Independent over phone that he does not employ any under-age driver. “My drivers are all licence-holders.”
This correspondent, however, found otherwise. One of his tempos has a 16-year-old driver and the physical condition of the tempo bears testimony to the fact that it cannot possibly have a fitness certificate.
When asked about it, Ali hung up the phone.
According to the director (engineering) of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), Nurul Islam, the transport regulators are aware of the fact that most tempos do not have fitness certificates and that most drivers do not have licences.
“This is the most informal mode of vehicles in Dhaka and other places across the country. We have estimated that around 2,400 tempos are travelling on Dhaka roads, ferrying nearly 1.8 lakh passengers on a daily basis,” he said.
Nurul added that the BRTA has conducted several drives to curb this menace. “But after some time, they always end up back on the roads,” he conceded. However, he also mentioned that the accident rate for tempos was relatively lower compared to other vehicles.