20 days ago


Rise of informal transport

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As the city of Dhaka is now dominated by unapproved or unauthorised transports, it becomes the second topmost city to boast informal transport in Asia. Khulan is at the top of the list where 58 per cent mode of transport is informal. These two cities are followed by Jakarta, Manila, and Surat with 50, 38 and 30 per cent respectively. A study, prepared by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) unveiled the situation recently. The report also showed that active mobility in Dhaka and Khulna is much lower, 17 and 26 kilometres respectively. 

Prevalence of four-wheelers like leguna, various three-wheelers such as human-pulled rickshaws, battery-run rickshaws and easy-bikes are the main informal vehicles in these cities as well as rest of the country. Nosimon, Korimon and Bhotbhoti are also seen in southern and northern parts of the country. These are locally made three-wheeler driven by shallow engine. All these informal transports are used by a large number of people to move within a short distances as they don't have adequate public transport. Mobility based on these types of transports is also known as 'para-transit' as these are multi-passenger small vehicles including motorbikes and CNG-driven auto rickshaws.  So, all the transports under para-transit are not unauthorised.

Problems with informal transport are manifold. These are small and mostly slow-moving vehicles and carry a few passengers at a time. In the short-distance, these may be helpful. But these are inefficient. Take the example of battery-run rickshaws or easy-bikes. Usually, these can carry two to six persons at a time. During the rush hours, it becomes difficult to manage the traffic as a good number of these transports occupy a large part of the busy roads. These also create barriers to smooth movement of regular public buses and minibuses.

Though users of the informal transports find these comfortable, as they do not have better alternative, demand for the small vehicles are growing.  Many people also opt for driving these transports for their livelihoods. But the most troubling thing is that a vested interest group has also developed in this connection. The group includes a section of law enforcement agency members and local political leaders and activists. The group ultimately control the business of the informal transports, collect unauthorised tolls from the owners and drivers and distribute among the group members. As the transport owners and drivers pay for their operation to the politically-backed group, sometimes they also feel free to violate traffic laws. The net result is chaos on roads and streets.

It is sad to note that there is neither any effective initiative to replace these informal transports with efficient public transports, nor any planned move to curb these vehicles.  In the name of job creation, even some policymakers support the operation of these transports. Driving these transports is not a decent job rather risky as drivers and passengers are vulnerable to road accidents.  

It is true that removing these transports from roads and streets is challenging as in many urban and rural areas these are the only vehicles to provide comparatively fast moving option for many commuters. What can be done is to limit the number of these risky vehicles and provide alternative small but safe transports with better accommodation for the time being. It will reduce the bad traffic to some extent. Gradually, by introducing public buses or mini-buses, necessity of the informal transports can be curtailed.  Creation of fairly good walkways can also reduce the use of these vehicles to some extent.

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