There are three main modes of public transportation in Dhaka — rickshaw, CNG & local bus. However, I recommend downloading the mobile app Uber to hail a car or motorcycle on-demand. Pathao is the local competitor to Uber and significantly cheaper. There are other similar services but they are of inferior quality.
The biggest challenge of commuting in Dhaka is the traffic. It drains the life out of you. To avoid traffic, you need to work around rush hours. Google will send you notifications from time to time regarding traffic conditions.
Althernatively, you can keep in mind that roads are emptier early in the morning — around 7am. Roads also tend to be empty mid-afternoon till office recess. I leave early for work and leave office by 4:00pm. Banks have the shortest lines right after lunch — around 1 pm to 2 pm.
Uber launched in 2017 and is a godsend for Dhaka’s middle-class. This is mostly because Dhaka’s public transportation system is very run down and controlled by a form of cartel. Uber’s convenience and luxury is unrivaled. It’s cheaper to commute via Uber than owning and maintaining a car. Uber is rather expensive for the common man or woman that uses Dhaka’s public transport.
Pathao is a local competitor to Uber. They started as a delivery service for the newly booming eCommerce industry. When Uber launched its car service in Dhaka, Pathao quickly launched their motorcycle hailing service. Uber and Pathao both gained popularity in their respective niche. Shortly after, Uber launched an option to hail motorcycles and Pathao launched an option to hail cars. Pathao is noticeably cheaper than Uber and the experience is comparable. Uber’s software is superior and Pathao has occasionally faced software and server issues.
Recently, Pathao has also launched their food delivery service. They also have an option which allows you to deliver or fetch anything from and to anywhere in Dhaka.
Owning a private car used to be for the upper-middle-class in the early to mid-2000’s. Even lower-middle-class families own cars now. Mostly because the quality of daily life improves many folds. You can travel anywhere on a whim and relax in a spacious air-conditioned environment while it’s scorching hot outside.
Cars are very expensive in Bangladesh because they are often subject to up to 200% import tax. Bangladeshi’s love the Toyota brand because they run for 100,000’s of kilometers before breaking down. There is a big market for used cars and Toyota car parts are readily available.
Unlike the local buses in Dhaka, the long-haul buses are much better. They are clean, comfortable, air-conditioned and the buses are often of luxury brands such as Mercedes. These buses only travel in and out of Dhaka and not within the actual cities. There are different bus companies and the quality can vary. You can book your bus tickets online through https://www.shohoz.com/. Alternatively, you can also travel by water, in ferries known as “trawler” or “launch”.
The rickshaw is the cheapest and most convenient mode of transportation in Dhaka. They’re everywhere and they will take you wherever you want to go. The only issue is that they can only cover short distances. The average cost is about Tk. 15 per kilometer. Rickshaw pullers work very hard long hours and paying them extra is generally good practice — although not everyone shares this perspective and the locals often haggle over prices. In order to hail a rickshaw, you just raise your hand and yell, “Rickshaw!”
CNG’s are good for traveling long distances. The only downside is the CNG drivers. All CNG’s come with a meter that will calculate the fare based on government regulations. Most CNG drivers will ask to set a fixed price, usually overcharging many times — if you don’t agree, they won’t take you. You have to explicitly mention that you will pay the meter, or they’ll demand whatever suits them at the end of the journey.
CNG’s are indispensable mostly because taxi’s are not as common in Dhaka and they are the only option if you want to go to the outskirts of Dhaka where even a taxi won’t go due to poor road conditions and the lack of return passengers. In order to hail a CNG, you just raise your hand and yell, “CNG!”
The local bus is a mode of transport that is least recommended. The reason I say this is because — it’s overcrowded, you can get mugged, women often get sexually abused. Unfortunately, it’s a part of everyday life for the common man and woman. You can travel long distances on public buses at costs cheaper than a rickshaw.
All transport systems are inefficient and run down, primarily because they are big industries and they are controlled by corrupt individuals who bribe government officials and make sure there is no competition. In doing so, they can provide horrendous service and make exorbitant profits. Dhaka is very overcrowded, the amount of money in transportation is unimaginable.
In order to hail a local bus, you have to look for a man sitting on a desk sitting near the sidewalk collecting money and handing tokens. Sometimes, you just look for people standing on line and pay when you get on. If you don’t know what bus goes where, you’ll just have to ask people around. Getting on and off the bus can be tricky, they’re crowded and you have to rush.
Biman Bangladesh is the national airline. There are other airlines and you can travel to most major cities in Bangladesh by air. Air travel is used by many businessmen to travel cross-country and they are operated by experienced pilots and engineers. Because the simplest mistake can be fatal in air travel, my recommendation is to stick to road travel which is survival even in the case of an accident.