Abdul Goni, 28, has been driving a bus for a private company for the past seven years as a contractual employee. His duty starts at 6am and continues till 11pm almost every day.
He has an earning target of around Tk12,000 per day. However, the debilitating traffic jam in Dhaka robs him of seven to eight of his daily working hours, which in turn cuts down his income.
Goni turns into a reckless driver during midday, with hopes of making as many trips as possible in an attempt to make up for lost time.
Speaking to the correspondent, Goni explained his situation: “I need to pay the owner bus rent of Tk3,000 every day. I also have to bear additional costs up to Tk5,000, which includes paying the helper, and buying food and fuel.
“There is also extortion by the police on the roads, further adding to our misery. After covering those expenses, I make little for myself.”
Goni pointed out that most of the buses are being operated as a trip based system, and many drivers become aggressive to compensate for time lost in gridlock.
The story of majority of the public transport drivers is more or less the same.
The daily income of most bus drivers in Dhaka has gone down due to consistent tailback. This is a major factor behind the rise of road accidents in Dhaka.
Traffic jam: The real perpetrator?
According to a World Bank analysis, average traffic speed in Dhaka has dropped from 21 kilometer to 7 kilometer per hour over the last 10 years.
Congestion in the capital kills about 3.2million working hours every day.
Road accidents in Bangladesh have reached an epidemic level with over 1,000 people dead in road crashes in the first three months of this year.
According to data compiled by Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Bangladesh witnessed a total of 789 road crashes that left 1,049 people dead and 2,015 injured from January to March in 2018.
Among these mishaps, 57 road accidents occurred in Dhaka, taking 59 lives and injuring 115 people.
Blaming the untrained drivers alone might not be the solution, as 60% of the road accident victims were pedestrians.
Mohammad Salim, a bus helper, told the Dhaka Tribune: “The public transport system frequently comes to a halt on the streets of Dhaka for long periods of time, which is quite common. But the problem becomes unbearable in summer due to the heat.
“Unable to suffer the summer heat for an extended period of time, the passengers push the drivers to drive faster. The drivers comply with the passengers’ demand most of the time.”
Commenting on the alarming rise in road accidents, he said: “Pedestrians have a habit of walking on the streets haphazardly, which in turn increases the risk of road accidents. But most of the time, the vehicle driver is blamed for an incident.”
A trail of bodies
Rajib Hossain, a 22-year-old Government Titumir College student, initially lost his right arm and later his life, when a bus of Sajan Paribahan hit a BRTC double-decker bus parked at the SAARC circle on April 3.
On April 5, Ayesha Khatun, 25, sustained major injuries when two Bikash Paribahan buses tried overtaking her rickshaw from both sides and ended up crushing the rickshaw in Chandrima Super Market area.
On April 11, the right leg of Runi Akhter, an MBA student of the University of Development Alternative, was crushed as she was caught between a road divider and a bus of New Vision Paribahan at Farmgate in Dhaka.
On April 20, Rozina Akhter, 16, lost her right leg as a BRTC bus ran her over on Airport Road in Banani. Masuda, 35, who worked as a nurse at a private clinic, was killed after a truck hit her rickshaw in the Dhanmondi area the same night.
Using police records as reference, ARI data shows that on average, 3,000 road accidents take place in Bangladesh annually, killing around 2,700 people and injuring about 2,400.
The estimated economic loss from these accidents reaches Tk40,000 crore annually, which is 2% to 3% of Bangladesh’s GDP.
However, data from Bangladesh Passengers Welfare Association (BPWA) places the number of overall casualties from road crashes even higher.
According to their statistics, as many as 7,397 people lost their lives in 4,979 road accidents throughout Bangladesh in 2017, while another 16,193 were injured.
Their data further shows that 6,055 people died and 15,914 were injured in 4,312 accidents in 2016.
In 2015, a total of 8,642 people died and 21,855 people were injured from 6,581 accidents across Bangladesh.
Who to blame?
A number of transportation experts believe that reckless drivers are the core reason behind the staggering number of road accidents in the country.
“Heavy traffic jam in the city makes the transport workers more reckless as they fail to make targeted number of trips because of traffic jam, making drivers more aggressive as gridlock cuts down their income,” they added.
Kazi Md Saifun Newaz, an assistant professor at the ARI, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Traffic accidents are becoming more frequent because of reckless driving, aggressive overtaking, urgency to make more trips, pedestrians not using the foot over bridge and widespread lack of awareness on the road.”
He added that the drivers should not be blamed for every accident that occurs in the country.
Mahbub-E-Rabbani, director (road safety) of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) echoed the same opinion.
He said: “The primary reason for this is the number of illegal vehicles and unskilled drivers that lack even the basic training. They are running vehicles without heavy vehicles license.
“Even many drivers do not have any license, and the number of such drivers is not decreasing. Their negligence is leading to road accidents.”
Passengers’ Welfare Association Secretary General Mozammel Haque Chowdhury also blamed unskilled drivers and people who are driving on the road without valid licenses behind casualties on the road.
Initiatives for solution
The BRTA, for the last three years, has been running a training program for the implementation of safer roads. Under this initiative, drivers are receiving practical training and licenses are issued only to trained drivers.
Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA) Traffic Engineer Md Anisur Rahman said that the government is planning to implement a project for establishing specific rules and regulations for bus owners and drivers.
Anisur said: “Under the project, the government will foot the bill for losses, with aims to create a friendly transportation environment for both the drivers and the passengers on the road.
“Drivers will be free from the additional stress of trying to complete their trip quota. This in turn could help reduce road accidents by 50%.”
Abdur Rahim Box Dudu, senior vice-president of Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Sramik Federation, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Drivers are driving vehicles on the streets in an unfair environment.
“The trip based system and drivers paying daily rent to bus owners are major reasons behind the rising number of road accidents. Drivers pay most of the operating cost, leading to fierce competition among them on the road.”
Experts have recommended a number of moves to improve the current road safety issues, such as repairing the roads, improving the traffic police control system and ensuring more cooperation between the workers and owners.