The deaths of university student Abrar Ahmed Chowdhury and a number of students through road accidents last month have once again proven that the roads of the country are very unsafe due to reckless drivers.
Abrar's death last month had led to a resurgence of the safe roads movement by school and university students that the world had seen in Bangladesh in August of last year. That movement was also triggered by a double murder through a road accident on the Airport road. Abrar's death occurred near Badda, which is not very far from Airport Road. The Suprobhat bus that killed Abrar had earlier knocked down a female student. It was fleeing the scene when it ran over Abrar. This is an example of how reckless most bus drivers are in the country.
The story does not end there. This very old but newly-painted bus had 27 cases of traffic offences, including accidents. Some 145 of the 165 buses running under the 'Suprobhat' name do not have proper documents, according to latest reports.
Transport sector experts and the Accident Research Institute of BUET delved yet deeper into the goings-on in this vital sector. They have pointed out that at least 70,000 road-transport vehicles run without fitness certificates and other documents. Most of some 1.80 million drivers do not lack proper driving training and licence. The experts have underlined these as two of the main reasons behind increasing number of road accidents in the country.
Appearing at innumerable on-air and off-air discussions, leaders of transport owners and workers' associations and unions have agreed with these findings. They have also wondered why there are no sustainable solutions to mitigate the crisis, though several initiatives have been taken over the years. One of them had asked, "Why can all the different bus companies not be brought under one bus company?"
This initiative has been mulled by various government officials and other stakeholders of the transport sector for the last few years. However, a proper step towards materialising the idea is yet to be taken.
Commuters like businesspeople, private service-holders, students and guardians suffer from a gnawing problem: acute shortage of public transport on some roads and nagging tailback on others. People who stay late at work till 8:00 or 9:00pm, are often seen waiting in long queues for buses or sometimes opt for mini-trucks on Sadarghat-Gulistan-Malibagh-Pragati Sharani route. This route is the main transport artery of the metropolis. It links Sadarghat-Gulistan business hub, Mawa to the south and the densely-populated residential and industrial areas up to Gazipur in the north. This is where the latest mishap happened. Fortunately, buses of two transport lines - Suprobhat and Victor - and other ramshackle buses have been whistled off this road.
In partial replication of 'Dhakar Chaka' model that is operational in Gulshan-Banani areas, a circular bus service has been introduced recently for the Dhanmondi route. Similar circular services are supposed to start in business-heartland Motijheel and residential satellite-town of Uttara from this month. Undoubtedly, this is positive news for commuters. But this is a localised remedy that will not address the bigger problem sustainably.
A holistic solution to the transport problem in this overcrowded megacity lies in the immediate introduction of a bus route franchise. Moreover, early execution of the mega-projects under implementation - metro rail, elevated expressway and the likes-is also necessary.
What will the bus route franchise look like? As planned, six companies would be formed to run buses on as many routes. Trained and salaried drivers would be hired for the buses moving on the said routes. If this happens, buses that ply on contract-basis would be taken off the streets. The buses for each route would start in regular intervals from point of origin. The total monthly earnings would be divided among the company's owners.
The commuters that use the Pragati Sharani routes are worst affected by the current situation on the roads. More BRTC buses on this route will help them.
Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre.
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