Disciplining Dhaka's motorbikes  

Published: May 06, 2019 22:07:53 | Updated: May 08, 2019 22:12:07

The devil-may-care manner in which motorbikes have lately started speeding along the Dhaka streets can be termed simply dreadful, if not menacing. Their dominance over the capital's critical roundabouts is conspicuous quite distressingly. In the minds of law abiding road users, including vehicle operators and road-crossing pedestrians, they have long been instilling terror and worries. To the outspoken traffic monitors, these reckless motorbikes are now synonymous with an urban scourge. But in fact, these motorised two-wheelers are integral part of a modern urban life. The case of Dhaka is unique; that, too, in many respects. In the first place, their rise goes on at an exponential rate.

The 65 per cent share of these bikes among the total motorised vehicles since 2011 is potently significant. For a fast-growing middle-income-aspirant city it is nothing unusual. But the total percentage and the seemingly unabated rising trend carry the elements of unease. Whether sections of jittery people approve of it or not, the pervasive dominance of the Dhaka roads by motorcycles has for some time been a stark reality. As a recent FE report says, the number of motorbikes registered by the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) was 2.51 million till February. On the other hand, the number of all registered vehicles at the moment is 3.88 million. Befitting the major cities around the world, Dhaka also has high demand for public transports like buses. But to the disappointment of commuters and the other passengers, the number of these vehicles among the registered ones is only 46,742. Correction of this anomaly warrants the intervention of policymakers. In order for the large public vehicles to be attached precedence over the ubiquitous, and thus unmanageable, motorcycles it is pragmatic transport policies which can make a difference.  

Motorbikes are a common spectacle in the cities of developing countries. The middle class people, to whom private cars are often difficult to afford, are the chief clients of these two-wheelers. Small, nuclear families travelling by these bikes are normal urban scenarios; moreover, motorbike aficionados include lone young ladies, along with heroic male youths, in many highly developed cities today. Young women riding light motorbikes are emerging as a common scene in Dhaka. But there are a number of flipsides. In the Bangladesh capital, lax enforcement of traffic rules drives many motorcyclists to flout the mandatory laws. Stipulation about wearing of helmets by the main rider and the pillion passengers is still not respected by many. Riding motorbikes is economical, as per km cost of fuel involving these two-wheelers is said to be only Tk 2.0. It is Tk 20-30 in case of cycle rickshaws. By not properly monitoring the motorbike movement in the city and bringing them under the legal dragnet, the authorities concerned are in a way squandering a great potential opportunity being created for Dhaka's commuters.

Meanwhile, the app-based motorbike ridesharing in Dhaka is afflicted by a lot of blights. A survey says 99 per cent of ridesharing drivers do not follow traffic rules properly. What's most alarming, 80 per cent of the ridesharing drivers do not have adequate knowledge about traffic laws. Another aspect of this service is 25 per cent of the drivers are reportedly not fully fit physically or mentally. Launched in 2015, the ridesharing service was initially welcomed by the middle class commuters. It still benefits lots of people. But the irregularities plaguing it and deviant ways adopted by most of its drivers run the risk of its becoming another urban dread.

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