The Dhaka North mayor’s long-cherished plan to fix Dhaka’s broken public transport system appears to be close to fruition.
After long negotiations with Dhaka’s transport owners, research and planning, Mayor Annisul Huq says a proposal is ready to be handed over to the prime minister.
The Dhaka Tribune looked into the findings of Dhaka North City Corporation’s (DNCC) research and the plan, popularly known as the colour-coded bus plan, to see what benefits this would bring to Dhaka’s suffering citizens.
A consultant team under the supervision of the DNCC carried out a study of the existing public transport system and the corporation is almost done drawing up a proposal for how to introduce the new franchising bus service system.
The study recommends operating 4,000 buses of six different colours on six basic routes instead of the existing 194 routes. Six companies will operate the service among the routes in place of the existing 137 small companies. The proposed franchising system can carry more passengers in a day than the existing system, the study suggests.
“The proposal for the detailed project plan will be disclosed through a seminar next month and a public discussion will be held. Then the prime minister will decide how the plan will be executed,” Annisul Huq said during the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA) board meeting last week.
3,100 fresh buses
The DNCC started the planning of colour-coded buses by carrying out the study in March last year.
The study found that 6,116 buses and minibuses are registered in Dhaka city; of them 3,212 are buses and 2,904 minibuses.
In reality, around 4,500 buses run every day while the rest are non-functioning.
The study recommends that buses older than five years be removed from the city during the renovation process. The number of such dated buses and minibuses are around 3,600. That means there are 900 newer buses operating in the city. These buses will be kept and 3,100 new buses will be obtained to make a total of 4,000 buses.
According to a study of the civil engineering department at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), three million passengers commute in buses in Dhaka city every day, which means each bus carries about 700 passengers a day.
The Indian city of Mumbai has only 3,600 buses which carry an average of 4.8 million passengers in a day. That means a bus can carry 1,333 passengers. This difference in capacity comes from the fact that the bus routes in Mumbai operate under the franchising system, says the study.
The franchising system can remove overcrowding at the bus stops ... if the franchising system starts in Dhaka, it will bring discipline in the transport system
Prof Moazzem Hossain of Buet who was the team leader of the study, said: “Mumbai, Singapore or Kuala Lampur cities have a planned transport system. A route is operated by a single bus company as a franchising system. So, they can carry more passengers than the buses in Dhaka.
“The franchising system can remove overcrowding at the bus stops.
“I think if the franchising system starts in Dhaka, it will bring discipline in the transport system.”
The bus owners have placed 20-point demand to the Dhaka north mayor against this plan.
Their demands include the government purchase the buses that will be scraped. They have also asked for government loans to purchase new buses.
“By selling the old ones we will be able to buy new buses. Our other demand is that the interest rate for loans must be fixed below 6% instead of existing 20%,” said Nasir Uddin Khokan, managing director of Bihanga Paribahan Ltd, also organising secretary of the Dhaka Sarak Paribahan Malik Samity, the transport owners association.
Annisul Huq said: “We sat down with transport owners about 12 times. We have been able to meet most of their demands. Now we will sit in the beginning of May to finalise the whole plan.”
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Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain
Consolidated ownership to bring discipline
At the core of Annisul’s plan is to consolidate bus owners into a handful of entities, in the hopes that this will cut predatory competition on the streets and bring discipline to the industry.
The DNCC study recommends that the six proposed routes will be operated under six companies.
The companies will be holding companies. Generally holding companies allow the reduction of risk for the owners and can allow the ownership and control of a number of different companies.
There are about 200 bus owners operating in Dhaka, and they will all be brought under these companies.
The bus owners will be able to get a fixed revenue even if their buses do not carry any passengers in a trip.
The companies will be made to strictly follow traffic rules such as picking up and dropping off passengers only at designated bus stops.
The Dhaka South and North city corporations are already taking the initiative to build bus-bays and six new bus depots in the city where the buses will be parked.
The study recommends that the fare be prepaid following the government rates to ensure hassle-free journey for commuters.
The government has also planned to introduce a smart card system for passengers which will allow passengers to pay without cash.
“We have already completed the piloting of the smart card project. Hopefully, the project will implemented by December 2018,” Road Transport and Highways Division Secretary MAN Siddique said.
The majority of the capital’s citizens commute daily in public transport, namely buses.
Public transport in Dhaka is a chaotic scene where few rules are followed. In the morning and evening rush hours, massive crowds of passengers throng the bus stops chasing after buses. Commuters are often hanging off the doors of crowded buses, and even standing on the bumpers in desperate times.
There are 12 different bus companies operating on the Mirpur-Gulistan route. The buses often jam the bus stops competing with each other to collect passengers, resulting in gridlocks.