The election manifestos of the major political parties, unveiled ahead of the 11th national parliamentary election, are loaded with a list of ambitious promises. The main objective of these promises concerns making the lives and livelihoods of the countrymen better and easier. But the manifestos either ignored or sidelined the issue of decent public transport.
It is well known to all that the absence of a decent and cost-effective public transport system is taking a heavy toll on people's mobility and productivity. Policymakers feel ill at ease to recognise the fact. Instead, they have been gradually resorting to costly and wrong designed initiatives to develop an effective public transport. As a result, chaos in public transport is not decreasing, let alone ending.
The student protest in Dhaka and other parts of the country in the middle of the year highlighted people's frustration with the chaotic public transport system. But election manifestos of the major political parties, the Bangladesh Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to be precise, indicated that leading politicians have little time to think about people's mobility.
As the Awami League has been in power for the past one decade, its manifesto rightly presents the status of different road- and transport-related big projects undertaken in the previous years. No doubt some of the completed projects have brought a positive change in the connectivity throughout the country and some mega projects like Padma Bridge will make a bigger change. At the same time, it is also difficult to disown the ineffectiveness of some infrastructure built with higher costs. The long-term result of the mismatch between better and flawed projects may be a lower than optimal return on these investments.
In fact, construction a large number of transport-related infrastructures is not sufficient to overcome the current chaos in public transport. It requires good governance with well-designed cost-effective long-term initiatives.
The Seventh Five-Year Plan (7FYP) and the Revised Strategic Transport Plan (RSTP) for Dhaka emphasis fixing the problem of public transport system by attaching much priority to bus-based solution.
In the manifesto, the party in power doesn't mention anything categorically about the advancement of solution except the promise of introducing modern bus service in Dhaka. It, however, promises introduction of bullet train in future connecting Dhaka and divisional cities.
On the other hand, the BNP's manifesto doesn't mention anything about the transport sector let alone public transport. The summary of the manifesto, however, says that if elected to form the next government, the party will continue all the ongoing development projects. Moreover, it will also audit the spending of all the mega projects to detect corruptions behind these.
Ignoring or overlooking the necessity of decent and cost effective public transport also exposes the political nexus with existing transport sector which is largely unregulated. Shady economic activities dominate the sector and a number of political leaders, activists and musclemen are extracting illegal tolls from transport business. This compels millions of commuters and travellers to pay high fare for poor services.
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