About 76% of Dhaka roads are occupied by 6% of the population that owns private cars
The traffic gridlock in Dhaka can never be solved if the number of private cars continues to rise at an alarming rate, said experts.
To solve the problem, they emphasized the need to introduce passenger friendly public transport services, instead of offering incentives and benefits to car importers.
According to a survey by Democracy International in 2017, about 76% of Dhaka roads are occupied by 6% of the population that owns private cars.
On the other hand, public transport such as buses and minibuses occupy a mere 6-8% of the streets of the capital, and the remaining space is occupied by other vehicles, illegal structures, and unauthorized vehicle parking, said experts.
It is true that cars have increased on the streets of Dhaka significantly. However, it is also true that the vast majority of public transport like buses and human haulers contribute significantly to the traffic congestion. Their unruly movement on the streets of Dhaka shows little regard for traffic rules and discipline.
The plan for rationalization of bus routes initiated in 1997, needs to be quickly implemented to ensure quality public transport service for city dwellers and it is the only viable way to solve the traffic crisis, they added.
Bus vs car
Three private cars carrying a total of about 12 people takes up the same amount of space as a bus that could accommodate 36 to 40 people, according to a survey.
A 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, said the survey by Stamford University Bangladesh's Department of Environmental Science.
Some wealthy families have at least two cars.
Private car registration skyrocketing
The number of private passenger cars in Bangladesh rose by about 82% in the 10 years since 2010.
The number of registered private passenger cars in Dhaka stood at 163,004 in 2010, jumping to 296,593 as of June this year, shows data compiled by Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA).
Most private cars can accommodate only four passengers and a driver.
Although the demand for public transport has always been higher, there are only 10,806 registered minibuses in Dhaka, compared to 9,490 minibuses registered up to 2010.
A World Bank study published in 2017 found that the average traffic speed in Dhaka in the last 10 years has dropped from 21km to 7km per hour, only slightly above average walking speed.
Congestion in Dhaka eats up 3.2 million working hours per day and the loss amounts to Tk30,000 crore, according to WB.
Rationalization of bus franchisee is crucial
Transport experts said the number of private cars will create anarchy in the traffic system of the city if it continues to go up.
They said it is essential to streamline the public transport system and contain the number of passenger cars to avoid a traffic system catastrophe.
Noted urban expert and former chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC), Prof Nazrul Islam, said around 20 million people live in greater Dhaka, including nearly 12 million in Dhaka city corporation areas where traffic congestion is higher.
In addition, hundreds of buses and trucks enter and exit Dhaka city every day, making the situation even worse.
In the long term, the government must take up plans to contain the growth of the population in Dhaka, and decentralize services based in Dhaka, he said.
“Right now, as a short term plan, we will have to regularize and modernize the bus operation system, so that people are more inclined to use public transport services,” said Prof Nazrul.
He also stressed the need for more commuter train services so that people from Narayanganj and Tongi can be encouraged to commute more by trains.
“There is no alternative to the introduction of a bus franchise system and the development of a traffic management system,” he said.
He also said, ensuring the provision of various essential services and facilities in each locality may minimize the need for commuting.
“For example, people from many different areas go to Dhanmondi for good schools or hospital services, and many of them commute on personal cars. If they had good schools or hospitals in their own neighborhood, they could stay in their area which would reduce pressure on the traffic system,” he said.
Civil Engineering Professor at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Dr Shamsul Haque, said the government must increase the number of public transport, such as buses, and bring discipline to the traffic sector.
He also suggested the adoption of a decentralized system to ensure good traffic management.
Asked if there is anything the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority can do to control the chaos of Dhaka traffic, BRTA Chairman Nur Mohammad Mazumder directed this correspondent to speak with the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA), as DTCA is the sole authority for managing transport coordination in the city.
What has happened to the bus franchise plan?
The bus route rationalization plan was initiated under the Dhaka Urban Transport Project (DUTP) in 1997.
The plan saw progress only after late Dhaka North City Corporation mayor, Annisul Huq, was handed the responsibility of setting strategic plans for the initiative in 2015.
The plan aimed to bring all private buses under six companies and ensure quality services on 22 major routes.
However, the plan has been stalled since the death of the former DNCC mayor. Most bus operators have shown reluctance to join the plan.
Later, former Dhaka South City Corporation mayor Sayeed Khokon was made chairman of the committee for the rationalization of bus routes, but no apparent progress was made under his leadership.
Currently, the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority is managing the plan.
DTCA Executive Director, Khandakar Rakibur Rahman, said they are working on it and will hold a meeting about the plan on Tuesday.