The move may drive 600,000 people towards unemployment, stakeholders say
Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) has announced that they will start phasing out rickshaws from the city this year. Only 200,000 of the existing 600,000 rickshaws will be allowed in the areas while the rest will be phased out after March 15.
Officials said the aim of the measure is to ease traffic movement but experts find it impractical in the absence of viable alternatives for those affected.
Such a move will increase the suffering of the people while negatively impacting rickshaw-pullers, owners, and mechanics who have already been hit hard by the rising prices of daily essentials and months of unemployment during the countrywide lockdown in the pandemic, said experts.
The plan to remove rickshaws comes after 32 long years, when DSCC has decided to issue licenses to 200,000 rickshaws it found suitable for its streets. Accordingly, it received the same number of applications for rickshaws between September 13 and October 1 last year.
The undivided Dhaka City Corporation had issued licences to 79,554 rickshaws and 7,807 rickshaw-vans prior to suspending the process in 1988. Since then, an estimated one million rickshaws have hit the streets of Dhaka, one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
The number of this illegal and slow-moving vehicle is constantly rising because there is no shortage of demand. Rickshaws are a cheap and convenient mode of transport for many.
According to urban transport experts, slow-moving vehicles cannot ply the road alongside the faster vehicles like cars and buses as they slow down the average speed of traffic movement.
However, the reality is commuters heavily depend on rickshaws and private cars due to scarcity of public transports, which is why the capital’s roads are chaotic and congested.
Recently, DSCC banned rickshaws on three major routes—the Kuril-Sayedabad road by Rampura and Khilgaon, Gabtoli to Azimpur via Asad Gate, and Science Laboratory intersection to Shahbagh intersection— in July 2019 to reduce traffic jams. The move, however, led to growing protests by different low-income groups and was eventually retracted.
Why the ban?
DSCC officials said they in an internal survey found that 200,000 rickshaws are suitable for the areas under the city corporation. If just 200,000 rickshaws ply the city streets, it will be better for both the traffic system and for those whose incomes depend on the rickshaws, they claimed.
At least 1,200,000 rickshaws are split evenly across the two city corporations. The DSCC is providing 5,000 licences to applicants every day and will continue doing so till March 15.
DSCC Public Relations Officer Md Abu Naser said they will gradually remove illegal rickshaws after the registration deadline expires on March 15.
“Some areas will be selected for the movement of rickshaws. At the same time, no rickshaws will be allowed on highways encompassing the capital city,” he added.
However Dhaka North City Corporation does not have any similar plans to remove rickshaws but they will also not give any more rickshaw registrations out.
Stakeholders gravely concerned
Rickshaw-Van Sramik Union President Abdul Kuddus, with great concern, said almost 600,000 people, including rickshaw-pullers and owners, will be unemployed if the decision is implemented.
“I own two rickshaws and am waiting for registration - but those who have 10-12 rickshaws or more are completely at a loss,” he said.
Criticising the DSCC move, urban planner Iqbal Habib said the benefits of the withdrawal of the illegal rickshaws would not justify the inconvenience of passengers and those making a living through this mode of transport.
“If all rickshaws are licensed, it will bring discipline in the city’s traffic system. However, to ensure that, a dedicated lane has to be in place,” he said, adding that 30-32% of city dwellers are dependent on rickshaws as they find it comfortable, cheap, and hassle-free.
People wishing to travel short distances think of rickshaws first, as travel through narrow lanes is not possible on a public transport, he added.
“The overall situation must be considered before implementing such a crucial decision; that too, depending on surveys,” he maintained, stressing the importance of rickshaws as an eco-friendly vehicle even if they slow traffic down.
“We must think of a vehicle that would replace rickshaws by requiring less physical labour and being more environmentally friendly,” he suggested.
Upon considering all these factors, it would be a wise decision to remove rickshaws only in phases, he concluded.
Rickshaw passengers perturbed
Emdadul Haque, a resident of Lalbagh’s Nawabganj Bazar area, said he uses rickshaws for his daily commute to Azimpur Bus Stand to catch a ride to his office at Motijheel. During office hours, getting a rickshaw at a fair price often becomes difficult due to increased demand.
“If the number of these vehicles decreased for any reason, the fare prices would increase for sure. This will create havoc,” he said.
Malati Das, a resident of Shakhari Bazar in Old Dhaka, said that their main concern is taking children to schools in the morning. “In Old Dhaka, roads are narrow and moving with children and the elderly will become tough without rickshaws.”
Although rickshaws create traffic congestion, they will be in a far worse position if the number of rickshaws declines, she added.
Motorised-rickshaws to be modified
Other than the 200,000 applications by paddled-rickshaw owners, about 27,000 motorised-rickshaw owners also applied for licenses. They will modify the rickshaws by removing the motors.
Dhaka South City Corporation banned battery-powered rickshaws and vans on September 6, 2020, as riding on these rickshaws is risky and they have been responsible for causing many accidents.