204 companies are operating on 289 routes—increasing dangerous competition on Dhaka’s roads
The death of two college students, crushed by a speeding bus on Dhaka’s busy Airport Road, yet again shines a spotlight on bringing discipline to the transport sector.
With the number of casualties rising every year, the authorities concerned have failed to take concrete steps to help resolve the issue. They repeatedly blame drivers for 90% of the road accidents, citing competition-based reckless driving between bus drivers as the main reason for accidents.
Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA) officials explained that the drivers of different bus companies are competing with each other to get more passengers.
The drivers stop anywhere, to let passengers board, which often leads to accidents, officials said.
According to Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) statistics, a total of 6,897 approved buses from 204 companies are now operating on 289 routes.
Six bigger companies have over a 100 buses, meaning other companies have fewer buses, and all operate on and share the same routes—leading to competition.
“It is not difficult to manage a route permit. So 97% of the buses are now owned by private companies. To make more money, owners are allowing the drivers to make trip-based services—which increases a sense of competition among them,” a BRTA official said.
Thus, the DTCA last year decided to reform the system by allowing only a single bus to operate on a route.
The decision to launch BusNet, a reform mechanism to operate a bus on one route, on a test basis, was taken; it was intended to counter what would be time-consuming and challenging franchise services on all routes, officials said.
DTCA Traffic Engineer Md Anisur Rahman said the government is planning to implement a project to establish specific rules and regulations for bus owners and drivers.
“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%. The government also wants subsidize any losses incurred,” he told the Dhaka Tribune recently.
According to the Revised Strategic Transport Plan (RSTP), the total number of trips in Dhaka will be 42,702,370 in 2025, and 51,179,487 by 2030, with the BRT-3 (Bus Rapid Transit) and MRT-6 (Mass Rapid Transit) accounting for 6% of all trips, while the local buses will undertake 63% of the trips.
“In order to bring safety to the roads, there is no better way than to change our trip-based system. And reckless drivers are the core reason behind the staggering number of road accidents in the country. This is because of the trip-based approach,” Anisur added.
According to the Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Bangladesh witnessed a total of 1,443 road accidents between January and June this year; these left 1,757 people dead and 3,524 injured.
Using police records as a 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, every year.
The estimated economic loss of these accidents reaches Tk40,000 crore annually, which is 2% to 3% of Bangladesh’s GDP.
Kazi Md Saifun Newaz, an assistant professor at ARI, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Road accidents are increasing in frequency because of: reckless driving, aggressive overtaking, an urgency to make more trips, pedestrians not using foot-over bridges, and widespread lack of awareness on the road.”
The passengers and drivers are not the only ones responsible; roadside engineering errors are also responsible for road accidents.
The DTCA official also said the government is delaying fixing these problems because they are working on bigger projects. “But initiatives to implement the plan will soon be taken,” he added.
BRTA Secretary Showkat Ali said many drivers do not have a license, and the number of such drivers is not decreasing. “Their negligence is leading to road accidents,” he said.
BRTA authorities might not be able to prevent road accidents, but can punish the culprits.
“We can file cases against the bus drivers, and the route permits of the bus companies can be cancelled,” said the secretary.
DTCA is setting up cameras in Gulshan, Mohakhali, and Paltan to help regulate traffic. It is a pilot project to reduce the number of road accidents. This year, it will be introduced in the domestic pilot program at Progoti Shoroni.
“It will be a very long-termproject but we have targeted to complete it by 2020,” DTCA official Anisur said.
When asked why delays are being made, he said the authorities took the initiative in 2016 to curb the number of road accidents.
“Actually the DTCA, under a World Bank-funded study done in 2013, recommended bringing down the number of city bus routes to 91 from 152 by 2016, and 72 by 2020. But the number of routes has increased to over 250—creating competition among operators,” he added.
He continued that the BusNet idea was initiated by late DNCC Mayor Annisul Haq, but after his death, the DTCA board formed a new 22-member committee to draw up plans for how to implement this system.
The government will form a “system manager” company to control all bus companies, with a team monitoring the BusNet service.
DTCA will jointly work with the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), Roads and Highways Department and BRTA. By 2020, DTCA hopes that instead of 288 bus routes, they will operate buses on 90 routes with 10 packages.