The inefficient and inadequate public transport system of the country is gradually driving the people to look for some micro-level solutions to address commuting hassles. The growing number of motorcycles over the year may be seen as a proof. On an average, 614 new motorcycles are now hitting the streets everyday and contributing to the congestion of the already traffic choked capital city.
Lack of adequate public transport in the main cities and easy mobility in semi-urban and rural areas are two reasons to spur the demand for motorcycles. What is disturbing with the growing number of motorcycles is the incremental unruliness on the streets caused by a large section of the bikers. They are at the top on the list of breaching traffic rules and creating public nuisance. Motorbike-driven crime is also on the rise.
More than 0.2 million new motorcycles have hit the roads across the country in the first nine months of 2016, according to statistics available with the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA). The number of newly registered motorcycles stood at 224,139 in January-September period of 2016, the statistics showed (see the graph). The number was 240,358 in 2015. Of the total newly registered motorcycles, some 39,134 were registered in Dhaka during January-September period of the current year. The number was 46,764 last year. BRTA data also showed that the total number of registered motorcycles in the country reached at 1.61 million (1,616,451) at the end of September, 2016 while the number was 0.42 million (422,722) in Dhaka.
The actual number of motorcycles are, however, likely to be higher than the registered one as numbers of unregistered motorcycles are not negligible. Due to lack of proper monitoring by the authority and discriminatory enforcement of traffic laws make room for the unregistered motorcycle to be on the streets.
Moreover, relaxed registration fees along with some tax relaxation on assembling motorcycles in the country contributed to increase the number of motorcycle. Motorcycle owners are now allowed to pay the registration fee in instalments. For a 100cc bike, one time down payment is Tk 9,313 and rest amount of Tk 4,600 can be paid in four instalments in eight years. For the motorbikes over 100cc capacity, down payment is Tk 12,073 while the remaining Tk 9,200 can be paid in four instalments in eight years. Such relaxation for paying the registration fees simply encourages buyers to purchase motorcycles for their regular commuting. Sales of motorcycles rose by 15 to 20 per cent and prices went down by around 15 per cent last month as major importers are registering themselves as 'progressive manufacturers' to enjoy 20 per cent tax waiver.
The national budget for FY16 imposed additional 15 per cent supplementary duty on motorcycle importers which was 30 per cent. Thus total SD increased to 45 per cent. But, the current fiscal year's (FY17) budget reduced the SD to 20 per cent for the importers who register themselves as 'progressive manufacturers'.
A report in The Financial Express this week mentioned that such fiscal incentive boosts the motorcycle business as sales go up with lower prices. Though Motorcycle Manufacturers and Exporters Association of Bangladesh (MMEAB) claimed that sales volume of motorcycle dropped in recent years, this data does not fully tally with the figure of registration. According to the association, some 255,000 motorcycles were sold in FY11, which dropped to 230,000 in FY12. In the next three years, the volume continued to decline (see table). The difference between the number of registration and volume of sales implies that a good number of sold motorbike skipped official registration. Strict enforcement of traffic law, however, improved the registration scenario after 2014.
A section of young people like school and college goers are now driving motorcycles. Many of them are mastans or political cadres, generally affiliated with the different wings of the ruling party involved in illegal activities. Most of them drive bikes recklessly to demonstrate their clout in their locality and beyond. Some of them are involved in different kinds of crimes.
Beside these youths, a large number of regular bikers are also frequently defying traffic rules. The two most unruly behaviours they often practise are: riding on the footpaths and driving from the wrong direction.
While the daily cases or penalties against motorcycle bikers can be an indicator of the unruliness on the street, these are quite small compared to the violation of traffic rules. For instance, on January 13, 2016, Dhaka Metropolitan Traffic Police lodged 3,160 cases against different vehicles in Dhaka. Of these, some 792 were lodged against motorcycles. The number is, however, insignificant compared to the growing unruliness of motorcyclists.
Some realistic policy is important to address the issue. Like some East Asian countries, a motorcycle taxi service could be introduced for the time being. In southern part of the country, this type of service already exists where people can rent a bike with a driver to move to places. A small initiative has already been taken by a group to provide such service. The government can set a strict guideline for such a service so that safety and security of the commuters could be ensured. This will contribute to enhance the mobility of people. At the same time, strict and nonbiased application of traffic rules should be in place. The government should also check illegal import of motorcycles which is increasing in the western border areas. Finally, fiscal incentives need to be reviewed carefully.