Thousands of articles in newspapers and hundreds of seminars and round tables on nagging traffic jams in Dhaka city in the past have seemingly failed to provide any relief to tired commuters as the concerned authorities are yet to come up with any effective solution. All the suggestions to improve the critical traffic situation have virtually gone down the drain.
A former high government official lamented that he had attended a seminar on traffic congestion at the National Press Club 28 years ago when he was a university student. "We are still talking about the issue." The disease has long been identified. If we do not make arrangements for its treatment, time will come when no treatment will work, he cautioned.
Steps like construction of flyovers have utterly failed to reduce traffic jams. There is often traffic jams on the Mohakhali flyover. After all, buses, cars and other motorised vehicles have to come down from flyovers to the clogged roads. The authorities have ignored the fact that traffic jams in capital Dhaka cost $4.6 billion a year in lost time, fuel and health consequences, among other elements. The UN Development Programme (UNDP), estimated that this is the annual income of over a million citizens but many people feel they have no choice but to commute by cars and scooters. In fact, Bangladesh can double its economic growth by just eliminating traffic congestion from Dhaka city, helping the government's efforts to move the economy beyond the 6.0 per cent-plus growth.
Experts say if Dhaka can be freed from the crisis, the country's per capita income would go up by $78. Without congestion, economic growth would move up to 13 per cent from the average 6.0 per cent, an expert said at a seminar on traffic congestion in Dhaka and its economic impact.
The researcher arrived at the estimate by adding up the cost of lost travel time, avoidable social cost and the expenses linked to fuel, vehicles and road accidents. The new number is much higher than the previous estimates.
Even a parliamentary watchdog has termed Dhaka's traffic congestion situation alarming. It has to be reduced at any cost, it said. The lawmakers noted that buyers, foreign businessmen cannot come to Dhaka due to horrific traffic jams. A city cannot be run like this, the watchdog said asking the home ministry to reduce it at any cost. The committee sources said, top officials of the traffic authority frankly told a meeting of the watchdog that they failed to reduce traffic congestion in the capital despite their outmost efforts. Initiatives from a higher level of the state are needed to meet the issue, the meeting was told. One such initiative suggested was immediate decentralisation of administration by relocating all crowd-pulling ministries and departments from Dhaka to other divisional and district headquarters.
Empowerment of local government, introduction of e-governance and quality health care and education in district and rural areas can also contribute to easing of pressure of motorised vehicles in the capital. Because of a lack of adequate public transport, middle- and upper-middle income people use cars, occupying 78 per cent of road capacity but carrying only 5.0 per cent of trips.
In fact, the causes of traffic congestion have been identified. Something must be done about it immediately. The solution has to be shorter than the short-term. The government should not be afraid of taking steps which might be unpopular but these will finally be patriotic in terms of decent lives of people and the country's development. Bangladesh's image abroad is assessed by what its capital looks like in terms of traffic jams.
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