20 days ago

Comfort and chaos in city transport systems

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The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) successively has adjudged Dhaka as one of the worst liveable cities on earth. The EIU has explained its reasons for sticking such an ignominious badge on this city. Time has gone by, but there has been no notable improvement in its liveability scorecard. 

The chaotic traffic is among the reasons that make Dhaka unliveable. The authorities here in recent years have paid particular attention to removing the stigma on that account. They have been investing billions of Taka in building mega infrastructure such as metro rail, elevated expressways, flyovers etc., to make traffic movement easier. One segment of the metro rail is already complete. So is the case with an elevated expressway. Both are now in commercial operation. 

The city now wears two contrasting pictures. Overhead, it is increasingly acquiring the look of a modern city crisscrossed by sky rails, flyovers and expressways. However, beneath those concrete structures, almost everything remains the same, barring some roads and streets where the plying of rickshaws is restricted. 

Vehicles of all types clog the city streets most of the time. Ramshackle and discoloured buses and unauthorized legunas and rickshaws – manual or otherwise – continue to be eyesores to people who want to see Dhaka as a beautiful and modern city in real terms. 

The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) had issued orders asking the owners concerned either to withdraw their ramshackle buses or renovate and refurbish those. However, the owners did not comply with the orders in question. The BRTA, however, preferred to overlook the bus owners' defiance. Such gross defiance has only encouraged owners to press more dilapidated and worn-out buses into city routes. The scene is altogether different in long-distance bus services. Buses operating in those routes are well-kept and clean. In most metropolitan cities across the world, there are air-conditioned buses. Only a handful of air-conditioned buses ply the Dhaka city streets. Overall, the bus services within Dhaka are poor and primitive. 

Many people consider rickshaws an essential nuisance. But their proliferation in recent years through an easy and cheap transformation should cause worries for the city fathers. Unfortunately, that is not happening. The two city corporations are least bothered by an unabated rise in the number of rickshaws, mostly the battery-run ones that are local versions of easy bikes. 

Battery-run rickshaws are an unsafe mode of transport. Anybody, juveniles, adults, women and physically disabled people can operate it. The drivers of manually driven rickshaws are required to press the pedals, which is a laborious act. 

The entry of motor-driven rickshaws has created an opportunity for some people in uniform or without it to earn a hefty amount from their owners. 

Interestingly, the city corporations and the police are least interested in dealing with the illegal plying of battery-run rickshaws. The city corporations and agencies concerned should have dealt with the issue when the number of such rickshaws was small. Unfortunately, they have overlooked the problem. Now, the number of rickshaws has grown in thousands. Any move to remove them from the city streets is likely to face strong resistance from more than half a million rickshaw-pullers and their owners. 

So, with concrete infrastructure built overhead at a substantial cost to ease transportation within the city, the situation on the streets below is unlikely to change much unless there are genuine efforts for radically improving its transport and traffic management. 


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