a year ago

Financing a decent public transport system

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The bus-dependent chaotic public transport in the country, especially in the city of Dhaka, is a curse for the hundreds and thousands of commuters. Inadequate public buses and minibuses with defaced and wornout exteriors and terrible interiors like narrow accesses and seats, dirty floors and broken windows are the main feature of the public transport. Finding no other alternative, the daily commuters have to travel by these deplorable buses.  Almost all of them also have to spend at least double the time to reach their destinations by wasting valuable time and energy.  Lack of adequate public transport also forces many to rely on small and private vehicles. The net result is continuous traffic congestions on roads.  

Against this backdrop, there is a growing demand for adequate and decent public transport. Being a densely populated city, public buses could be the best and most effective to increase the mobility of millions of commuters in Dhaka. MRT like metro-rail will make things more convenient.  Unfortunately, no strong and well-planned measure is visible so far in this regard except for the Nagar Poribahan which is struggling to make the service efficient enough.  So, there is always an expectation from the regular commuters that the annual national budget would provide some meaningful directions along with adequate allocation to make the public transport system decent and efficient.  The budget for FY24, placed in the national parliament on Thursday last, is yet to meet the expectation.

Though the total allocation for the transport sector increased to Tk 876.29 billion in the next fiscal year from Tk 729.46 billion in the outgoing fiscal year's revised figure, there is no clear direction to revamp the bus-based public transport. The finance minister mentioned the 'public transport' only once in his speech though he presented a brief list of projects to make the transport and communication better and safer.

It is to be noted that in his debut budget speech on June 13 in 2019, the minister mentioned public transport twice only. He said that to establish a planned and integrated modern mass transport system in Dhaka and the adjacent areas, they were implementing the Revised Strategic Transport Plan (2015-35). He also added that the construction of the first Metro Rail (MRT Line-6) from Uttara to Motijheel and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport to Gazipur was in progress. Four years on and the first metro rail is now in operation partially. The minister, in the latest budget speech, expressed optimism that the expansion of the metro rail network 'will revolutionise public transport system' and also foster 'the growth of businesses and employment opportunities'.

In his FY21 budget speech, public transport was mentioned only once, repeating mostly the FY20's statement. In FY22 budget speech, the minister mentioned about the public transport for five times.  In FY23 budget speech the minister underscored the implementation of BRT and Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) in Dhaka city to strengthen road safety, cut traffic congestion and to develop an affordable public transport system.

It is sad to note that decent public transport is a far cry in this country. Instead of adopting some simple and less-costly measures, the concentration is on expensive and time-consuming mega projects. It is not to say that the country doesn't need MRT like metro-rail. What is also needed is revamping the bus-based public transport.  Replacement of the existing uncomfortable, hazardous and environment-polluting public buses with green, clean low-floor buses will bring a big change in the public transport. The government may provide some allocation in the budget for this purpose.


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