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What would a car-free world look like?

  • Published at 12:09 pm September 21st, 2020
Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain

About 6% of people in Dhaka City who use private cars occupy 76% of the road. Between 6 and 8 per cent of the road is occupied by public transport

Bangladesh is a small country with a large population, and millions of cars on the road. The roads of this country are too narrow for a large number of private cars, so naturally, they cause traffic jams. Our capital city Dhaka was declared as an unlivable city in 2018 by the UK's Economist Intelligence Unit. The two main reasons for being labelled as an unlivable city were pollution and traffic jam. Pollution and traffic are interconnected. Long traffic congestion on road plays a major role in increasing air and noise pollution. According to World Traffic Index-2019, which is published by a research institute Nam Bio, Dhaka led the world in traffic congestion. Not only that, our capital is also at the top of the time wastage and traffic inefficiency index. The increasing number of vehicles, especially private cars should be held responsible for the increasing traffic in Dhaka City.

World Car-free Day 

Every year on September 22, World Car-Free Day is celebrated with various initiatives in many countries. The first World Car-Free Day was celebrated in 2000 and again in 2006 in our country, on a small scale by individuals and individual organizations. But from 2016 onward, our government joined in observing this international event. The purpose of this day is to unveil one day a month by making the roads free from excessive vehicles, providing free spaces for sports or diversion, giving people some relief from the mechanical life for at least one day.

Where did we go wrong?

In the context of our country where public transport could have been the ideal transportation system for us, we prioritized private cars for our daily movement. People are being encouraged to use private cars day by day due to various limitations of and restrictions on mass transportation.  There is a disparity in the number of public transports in some overcrowded routes compared to the others. For example, from Farmgate to Mirpur route has more public transport in numbers than any other routes. There are other inconsistencies and problems, such as the lack of a strict ticketing system, transparent and regulated system for extra ticket costs, a stark lack of a secure environment for women, overcrowding and congestion inside the buses, and a general lack of comfort, all of which make public transport undesirable. Moreover, private car symbolizes luxury, comfort and ostentation which encourages people to choose a private car over public transports.

Who’s in the driver’s seat?

According to a research report published by the US-based organization Democracy International (DI) on September 22, 2017-- 6% of people in Dhaka City who use private cars occupy 76% of the road. Between 6 and 8 per cent of the road is occupied by public transport, and the rest of the road is taken up by illegal parking. Thus, a private car takes more space in the streets than public transports. If we compare a private car with public transport, it is clear that a private car takes more road space in less efficiency.

A survey by Stamford University Bangladesh's Department of Environmental Science found that 3 private cars, occupied by 12 people, take the same space as a bus that could accommodate 36 to 40 people. On the other hand, one private car occupies the same amount of space as a human hauler (Tempo or Laguna). But a human hauler can accommodate 14 people while a car can only take 4. In some cases, the difference is that some wealthy families have at least two or more cars; therefore, for 2 to 4 people use at least two private cars that ply on the streets, which can be easily replaced by 12 bicycles. As the use of private cars is increasing, the demand for fuels is rising, increasing the rate of air pollution as well.

The cost of traffic

A roundtable discussion titled "Traffic in Dhaka Metropolitan City: Financial and Health Problems," organized by BUET's Accident Research Institute (ARI) and the Road Safety Foundation proclaimed that everyday people lose fifty lakh working hours due to traffic jam and its financial value stands at 37 thousand crores every year. In addition, when the vehicles are running on their engines, the harmful unburned Hydrocarbon is emitted in addition to the smoke, at the same time, wasting fuel or gas. Sitting in the traffic also increases the mental pressure of the drivers and the passengers, increasing the risk of road accidents. Bronchitis, headaches, dizziness, nausea, irritation in the eyes etc. – are some physical problems caused by inhalation of exhaled smoke from the vehicles.

Currently, the use of private cars in Dhaka is increasing at an alarming rate. In order to discourage people from using private cars, authorities should improve access to public transports, encourage people to walk and increase bicycling facilities. It is possible to reduce the dependence on private cars by introducing advanced bus service. Private car movement should be controlled by scheduling even license numbered cars in one day and odd license numbered ones in the next day and so on. In that case, traffic control will be much easier.

What needs to be done

In order to decrease the use of private cars to control traffic jam, urgent steps should be taken to improve the quality of bus service. At the same time, to solve problems such as health hazard, fuel waste, traffic jams, waste of time in traffic etc, the use of bicycles should be encouraged. Bicycles are environmentally friendly and healthy-- as cycling reduces mental stress, reduces the risk of heart attack, increases immune resistance, regulates blood pressure, and improves cardiovascular fitness. There is no separate road or lane for cycling in our country, the demand for a separate lane for bicycles has been issued for a long time.

The writer is the Chairman, Department of Environmental Science, Stamford University Bangladesh, and Joint Secretary, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA)

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