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Dhaka struggling to restore traffic discipline

  • Published at 04:55 am March 20th, 2019
File photo of a traffic jam in Dhaka's Karwan Bazar Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Experts for introducing a better traffic system in place

Authorities in Bangladesh have been struggling to bring traffic back under control on the streets of Dhaka, one of world's most densely populated cities.

Violation of traffic rules, reckless driving and racing on roads by drivers have become the order of the day in the capital, causing vexing traffic congestion and frequent road crashes.

On Tuesday morning, a student of Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP) was run over by a bus in front of Bashundhara Gate in Pragati Sarani area, prompting private university students to block the road in front of Jamuna Future Park, which left the traffic in the area in complete disarray. 

Also Read- Students block off Basundhara, Farmgate demanding safe roads

Numerous efforts and initiatives taken by the government have failed to bring back traffic control on streets.

Long tailbacks make commuting in the city a nightmare. The chaotic traffic situation has somewhat become Dhaka's "identity" as one cannot talk about the city without mentioning the paralysing traffic congestion.

The Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) observed special programs to bring back discipline on the streets last year after the students' road safety movement. 

However, there has been no improvement.

Rickety buses run over traffic laws

The traffic rules awareness campaigns fell on deaf ears. Breaking the law in the streets of Dhaka appeared to have become a norm, as everyone – from drivers to pedestrians – violates traffic regulations. 

It is a herculean task for the small number of traffic policemen to enforce the law.

In September last year, DMP set 121 stoppages for buses and issued a number of directives including: keeping doors closed while running, displaying staff's photo and mobile number, keeping updated documents and instructing owners to appoint drivers and assistants on fixed monthly salaries.

Also Read- Student’s death on Dhaka street rekindles road safety movement

But the transport sector has shown no sign of change.

Buses pick and drop passengers wherever they want; the staff are appointed on a daily wage basis; numerous unfit vehicles and human haulers are running on the streets, many driven by under-aged drivers; while many vehicles regularly use the wrong lane.

Buses still compete among themselves for passengers, a tendency transport experts blame on the practice of hiring staff on daily wage basis.

Stuck on paper

A 10-member coordination committee, headed by Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sayeed Khokon, was formed to restructure the traffic system and reduce commotion on roads.

"To restore order, 8,000 to 9,000 buses of only six companies will be allowed to run on 22 routes," Dr SM Saleh Uddin said, a committee member and project consultant.

"Another 4,500 new buses will be added to the current fleets," he said.

All bus staff will be employed through a proper recruitment process, Saleh said, adding that transport owners will be given loans with 5% to 6% interest to buy new buses.

Many buses that operate in Dhaka are old and rickety. However their exact number is yet to be known.

Also Read- DMP to observe traffic week every month

A 15-member committee, headed by former minister Shajahan Khan, was set up to bring city traffic under proper management and curb accidents.

On February 17, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said the committee was asked to file a report recommending effective measures within the next 14 days.

"We'll take all necessary steps to bring discipline in city traffic," he said.

The report is yet to be filed.

'Change of mindset'

A study from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) found that over 200 bus companies operate on 194 routes in Dhaka. Seven companies own over 100 buses, leading to cutthroat competition among them and an increase in the violation of rules and accidents.

"No other country has so many companies involved in the public transport sector," Buet professor Dr Shamsul Haque, a transport expert, said. "A small number of companies should be allowed to operate to restore discipline in the capital's traffic sector."

He said stiff competition among the private transport companies for revenue led to the collapse of the entire traffic system.

During one such competition in July last year, a bus ploughed through a group of students on Airport Road, killing two of them. The deaths triggered a countrywide movement for road safety that lasted for almost a week.

Also Read- BRTA cancels registrations of two Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan busses

During the demonstration, the protesters effectively took control of the city traffic and tried to raise awareness about following the laws on the streets.

Although the general people and drivers had shown signs of change, they reverted to their old selves within a few days after the movement stopped.

Prof Haque said: "The chaotic situation will not change unless we raise awareness among the people and transport operators."

"The law enforcers should strictly implement the law without hesitation," he added.

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