VOL NO 162 REGD NO DA 1589 | Dhaka, Thursday September 6 2012

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Abu Afsarul Haider concluding his two-part write-up on the traffic problem in Dhaka

Our public transport system is not adequate and properly routed. We must give incentives to, and encourage and facilitate the private sector to come up with modern public transport system. Since all our motorised vehicles are imported, we must adopt a specific policy on what type of public transport one can import. We would specifically say double-decker buses, standard big, medium-sized buses, mini-buses and taxi cabs should be allowed for public transport.

Now, what about the existing different types of vehicles that we already have? We are in a thick soup here. A huge number of stakeholders are involved, approximately five hundred thousand colourful rickshaws are there and 1.5 million rickshaw-pullers are earn their living from driving rickshaws - a good number of manufacturers are also involved in the business.

In order to get rid of one problem we should not ask for more problems. Of course, our priority is making Dhaka and other metropolitan cities well planned and look good. But by doing so we cannot afford to put so many commercial enterprises and people out of business suddenly.

Therefore, we must have detailed discussions with all the parties concerned with transport business and draw up plans on what types of public transport will ply on the road, and regarding the existing vehicles -- from which year they will not be allowed any more in Dhaka city and subsequently in other cities as well. If we all mutually agree and decide to do this, let us say, from the next year onwards, then our import policy should not allow importing baby-taxis, human haulers and what not in the name of public transport. Only specific vehicles as decided will be allowed to be imported for public transport.

For the existing vehicles, the government should announce its policy in advance - for example, rickshaws will be allowed in Dhaka city until December 2015 and in other metropolitan cities until December 2020. This is how the people who are involved with this business, can take steps accordingly. Similarly, for CNGs, battery-run Nasimons and Korimons and other odd public transport, government must give ample time, let us say, a minimum period of three years in Dhaka and another five years in other metropolitan cities. We would say, a total of eight years' period is enough time to readjust one's businesses and if there is no addition to their numbers during the period, these shabby-looking vehicles will be phased out automatically from the country.

The very first year, the government will require to impose restrictions on importing the above-mentioned vehicles; they should simultaneously introduce modern public transport, so that a commuter does not face any difficulty. Also the government should encourage the private sector by giving tax incentives and other benefits so that they also come forward and introduce modern public transport system, which should be well routed so that from every corner of Dhaka, one can have access to A/C and non-A/C buses. Improving public transport system will also save huge fuel expenses, consumed by car and will free the road space occupied by the same.

Many people argue that rickshaws and CNG-operated auto-rickshaws are transports for the poor and middle income people. We did a small survey ourselves and found that a rickshaw travels only short distances - one to four kilometers. The minimum charge is between Tk 10 and Tk. 15. On the other hand, CNG-operated auto-rickshaws go long distances but the fare starts from Tk.100 (officially it is less). If one can afford such fare on a regular basis, he or she can be anything but poor. So, the people opt for rickshaws to cover the distance which can be reached by walking, and become lazy. The majority of our workforce, including garments workers, walk to their workplaces. Anyway, an initiative can be taken with the help of community welfare associations on introducing circular buses around places such as Uttara, Dhanmondi, Gulshan, Motijheel etc. For an example, in Uttara or any other residential or commercial area, if there is a circular bus, which is well routed, many will ride that bus to go around the area instead of rickshaws and CNG auto-rickshaws. This initiative can take huge load off from the road.

* There are several rail crossings in Dhaka city and we were told that everyday about 70 to 80 trains move to, and from, Dhaka. Now, this is something to which we must give a serious thought. It takes five to seven minutes, on an average, to get the clearance for each crossing, depending on the location. Since, there are not too many roads in Dhaka, if a vehicle stops in crossing for five minutes it creates a long cue and thus affects other roads as well. If we add up, it comes around five to six hours of stoppage on a single crossing everyday. This is not acceptable and it is one of the major reasons of traffic jam.

Suggestions: This problem can be easily overcome by creating over- and under-pass on each rail crossing in the city, so that vehicles can move without stopping. We heard a lot about public private partnerships (PPPs), but because of the government mindset, the concept could not yet be implemented in the way as it was expected. Anyway, over- and under-passes can be made by the private companies and they will realise their cost by collecting toll with certain guidelines. This toll can be collected in advance at the time of vehicle registration and renewal.

* Some of the commercial buildings have limited parking space but many do not have any. Since we do not have many commercial parking lots in the city, people are compelled to park their cars on the streets which takes much space of the road. We have also noticed many intercity bus and trucks are parked on a regular basis on Mohakhali, Sayedabad, Gabtoli, Tejgaon, Malibagh and other areas, causing huge traffic jam. Trucks load and unload commodity items, construction materials and other goods in the middle of a road, giving a damn to traffic laws and rules.

Suggestions: If we can introduce dependable public transport system, the pressure of private cars and other vehicles will be less on the road. Of course, many will still prefer to take car to their office and for that government or private business houses can build commercial multi-storeyed parking lots in different areas like Motijheel, Karawanbazar, Gulshan etc. A congestion charge can be charged for private cars for plying on the road during specific periods of the day.

Though there is law which prohibits trucks to enter the city during the daytime, it is not strictly enforced. The authorities concerned must take action on those who are breaking the law.

* Political parties, workers, students, journalists or for that matter, everyone of us consider roads, to settle all our disputes. Road blockade is a regular phenomenon in the city. In protest against any government decision, workers, students, journalists and, of course, the political parties will block the road whenever they feel like, to press home their demands. They do not even consider the problems it is creating for the commuters and the country.

Suggestions: This culture of road blockade needs to change; we cannot afford this. We must look for an alternative way to protest. The government should come hard on those who block the roads and break the law. This is not only creating a traffic jam but also sending a negative signal to potential investors (foreign and local), thus slowing down our economic activities and growth.

We are all equally responsible, in some way or the other, for this chaotic traffic jam in Dhaka and other cities. It is also understandable that it cannot be solved within a short time. We need to open our mind, develop our consciousness, change our perception, and most importantly, we all need to work together to make Dhaka and our country, a better place to live in.

afsarulhaider@gmail.com




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