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How can a remote town in Bangladesh effectively implement its COVID mobility responses?

Leonie Guskowski, GIZ

Image of an electric rickshaw in Singra

Electric rickshaws in Singa, TUMI

Singra is a small city located in the Western part of Bangladesh. When the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading globally in the beginning of 2020, the city was not spared. The municipality and the citizens found themselves in an extreme situation, as the extent of the crisis was not foreseeable and an adequate response thus proved difficult.

In addition to the health effects, the situation also posed a particular challenge for the city's transportation sector. It was not until 2019 that the first public transport system was introduced in the city as part of a TUMI Challenge pilot project, supported by the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI). With the TUMI Challenges, TUMI offers global cities the opportunity to implement innovative pilot projects in the field of sustainable mobility, and at the same time benefit from actors, knowledge and experience in the TUMI network.

The first cases of COVID-19 in Bangladesh were reported on 8 March, 2020 in the capital city Dhaka. The country was not prepared for the exceptional medical challenges and the national government therefore enacted a country-wide lockdown beginning on 25 March, including the total suspension of all transport services. Despite the lockdown being enforced, the Singra Municipality quickly noticed that a lot of citizens were still moving for their daily needs, e.g. buying food and daily products. As a result, the first case of COVID-19 in Singra was reported in mid-April. To counteract the issue of citizens moving and interacting, and thus increasing the risk of spreading the virus, the municipality decided to use its public transport vehicles (electric rickshaws) to conduct food deliveries and deliveries of daily products. The deliveries could be ordered through a telephone hotline, which was created specifically for this purpose.

Since essential workers, such as nurses, doctors and other health workers, had to commute to work despite the lockdown and the suspension of transport services, the Singra Municipality assigned two vehicles for the transportation of health staff.

In addition to the public transport services, the TUMI Challenge project in Singra also introduced electric vehicles for emergency health services in the city. During the lockdown and beyond, one of these vehicles was used for the transportation of COVID-19 patients. Furthermore, the vehicles were used to collect samples for COVID-19 testing from remote areas of Singra.

Besides helping to contain the spread of the virus, ensure citizens’ food security, and the mobility of essential health workers, the quick and innovative reaction by the Singra Municipality also secured the longevity of the electric vehicles’ batteries, which would otherwise have been damaged due to non-usage.

By now, the situation in Singra has largely normalized. With the end of the lockdown on 30 May, most of the mobility measures that had been implemented were terminated, apart from the emergency vehicle for the transportation of COVID-19 patients which is still active now. Furthermore, regular awareness-raising is still being implemented with the help of the public transport vehicles. Through loudspeakers on the vehicles, medical information, rules of conduct and other information can be announced in all parts of the city.

Today, public transport services are largely being provided normally again. Passengers have to wear masks and there is information on distance regulations.

Looking back, the Singra Municipality identified the general closure of the public transport services as one of the most challenging issues in the past year. The prohibition of these services led to significant income losses for vehicle owners and operators. Secondly, the quality and condition of the vehicles suffered due to inactivity. With the innovative mobility responses, the municipality aimed to counteract these problems and to sustain mobility and health services for the citizens of Singra.

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