The Mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) announced last week that a joint drive would be launched against buses over 20 years' old, unfit vehicles, and illegal drivers in the capital from March 01.
According to reports, such drive will be launched to reduce congestion and the number of accidents on streets. The decision was taken at a meeting attended by the chiefs and representatives of the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) and Dhaka Deputy Commissioner's office.
As part of its plan, the DSCC has already evicted hawkers from the footpaths and streets of different busy areas, including Gulistan, Motijheel, Paltan and Dainik Bangla, to ensure safe and smooth movement of pedestrians and vehicles. The mayor, however, alleged that a vested quarter was hatching conspiracy against the move.
Traffic congestion is one of the main causes of the immense sufferings of the city dwellers. Stuck in tailbacks, many students fail to reach the examination centres on time, while many critical patients can't make it to the hospital due to traffic congestion.
Indiscriminate parking of motor vehicles -- mostly buses, private cars and rickshaws -- causes the traffic deadlock in this densely-populated city. Illegal parking of the staff buses of different banks and companies has been creating traffic congestion in the busy streets and the thoroughfares in Motijheel and its nearby areas.
What is surprising is that the authorities are set to launch the drive by giving advance notice. As such, the old and ramshackle vehicles will get enough time to disappear from the roads temporarily or get a facelift through denting and painting.
In fact, the drive against unfit motor vehicles turns to be a futile exercise every year. It begins with loud drum-beating by the authorities concerned. As usual, owners continue to keep their run-down vehicles off the road to avoid being penalised. Avoiding crackdown for the whole day, they press their old transports into service on the city roads at night as they know for sure that there would be no mobile courts beyond working hours.
However, according to reports, the authorities this time are considering alternative actions. They might authorise Dhaka district administration to confiscate rundown vehicles even if they are kept off the road. To get hold of such vehicles, the authorities are even planning to search garages where these might be kept.
The likely consequence of such drives, as experienced in the past, is scarcity of buses. Those who manage to board a few buses or minibuses which operate during such drives find it difficult to get space in the crowded vehicles. Some are left with no choice but to hire auto-rickshaws. The absence of buses on the street forces many to walk to their destinations. The scarcity of motor vehicles, however, brings fortune for rickshaw and van pullers, many of whom charge almost double the usual fare.
It is important that the government, especially the BRTC, should move forward to deploy additional buses on city routes. The point here is that while a drive against dilapidated vehicles is surely important, it is also vital that the probable void that will be created by a sudden action against such vehicles is avoided or minimised as much as possible.
The authorities should, therefore, go for a phase-wise programme that will allow them as well as private transport owners time to replace the vehicles that are put out of operation. That will be one way of averting the chaos which might otherwise be the result of any other kind of action.
Critics say the drive against old vehicles is usually half-hearted. It has been witnessed that the law-enforcement agencies entrusted with the drive to identify old vehicles create a mess on the roads by stopping the vehicles indiscriminately, good ones included. Unholy negotiation is also a common scenario at every point. There should be no repeat of the old exercises any more.
There is another point to ponder. It is not merely the dilapidated vehicles that should be the target of the drive, but steps must be in place to ensure that skilled, trained drivers are behind the wheels of public transport. Their knowledge of road regulations, their behaviour with passengers and other road users should also be part of the programme.
Unfortunately, drivers running the vehicles with fake licences are thousands in number. Every year, their number is swelling. A section of dishonest officials and employees in the BRTA are responsible for allegedly issuing fake driving licences and fitness certificates to old and unfit vehicles. On an average, 64 people die every day road accidents, a survey reveals.
There is another issue that the government may consider. Dhaka city or any other big cities in the country are not the abodes of only rich people. Rather mostly middle class or poor people live there. Therefore, any decision to ban old vehicles will harm the lives of majority of these people.
What the government can do is to give a very strong emphasis on fitness. If the fitness is alright, there is no problem with the old cars. There are even vehicles of the '80s which have been giving very efficient service due to better maintenance.
If the government takes strict stance on fitness of the cars, then people will be serious about proper maintenance of their vehicles. It is important that the BRTA should be strict on fitness and punish those who break traffic rules. This will improve the city's fragile traffic system.
The authorities should take a coordinated move to improve the overall traffic system rather than chop off the head to relieve headache. That is what the middle class and poorer section of society want from the government.