From design flaws to crisis of experts, the project has been weighed down by many issues
Two international donor agencies and three government departments are making frantic efforts to build the country’s first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)—all apparently for partial benefit once its construction ends by June 2022.
From design flaws to repeated deferrals of the project deadline to expert crisis, the project has already come across and is yet facing many issues.
Originally planned for the Airport-Keraniganj route via Sadarghat, the BRT project--initiated a decade ago--is witnessing the implementation of the extended part stretching from Joydebpur to the Dhaka airport area.
When the project’s feasibility was done with World Bank funds in 2012, it was envisioned as a highly viable project as it would have significantly eased traffic from one part of the city to the other.
But a mad race towards building flyovers has resulted in changes in the original plan. After several modifications of routes and designs, the original route has been completely dropped, mainly because of the Moghbazar-Mouchak Flyover as it restricted the BRT route.
Then appeared the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on the scene, joining the initiative. A fresh feasibility report was done on the route between Joydeppur and the Airport area.
But never did the BRT, one of the best public transport systems in the western world, look to be on track.
Many experts and even some former and existing project officials have voiced their dissatisfaction over how it is now being implemented.
“We are constructing the tail of the BRT, leaving out its body,” said Prof Moazzem Hossain, who was involved in it in 2012.
“We have messed up a good viable project,” he said, asking what passengers would do after alighting at the BRT station near the airport.
The BRT, he said, can carry around 10,000 passengers an hour. “But what happens when such a huge crowd is dropped at the airport premises, with no additional bus services available?”
Prof Z Shamsul Hoque earlier said the Mouchak flyover, as per the city master plan, was supposed to be extended to Moghbazar in a way that it would accommodate the BRT corridor. But the flyover was extended arbitrarily, blocking the dedicated passage for the buses.
According to a 2005 Strategic Transport Plan estimate, nearly 2.1 million trips are made every day in the capital-- about 28% of which are on foot, another 28% on public buses, 39% on rickshaws and only 5 % on cars.
Although the BRT is considered a low-cost solution to traffic issues across the world, Bangladesh is spending Tk200 crore for per kilometer of the project, which is extremely high.
Visiting the project site on Sunday, Gazipur City Corporation Mayor Jahangir alleged that substandard material was being used in the project.
Through his verified Facebook account, the mayor called for an immediate stop to the use of what he termed “low quality materials” in construction.
Adding to such problems is a crisis of experts and workers mainly owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Shafiqul Islam, managing director of Dhaka Bus Rapid Transit Company Limited (DBRTCL), acknowledged that the project had been mired in many problems, including design flaws.
“These issues caused the project to be redesigned, and a huge amount of time was spent on that. However, the progress is now smooth, with half the project completed already,” he said.
A shortage in the number of experts needed was one of the reasons for the slow progress of the project, he said, adding that experts from the Metro Rail project had been hired instead to expedite the BRT project.
“In order to get our job done within the deadline, we’re working on the 24/7 model.”
The 20km-long project is being implemented under the Tk42.68 billion Greater Dhaka Sustainable Urban Transport Project.