The economic cost of Dhaka’s insane traffic

6-10% of the country's GDP is lost indirectly to the city's traffic congestion, researchers say

Dhaka’s traffic is so infamous that everyone from the New York Times to academics have written about it. With time though it has only gotten worse. These past two weeks have almost seen the city come to a standstill.

Not only does this affect basic mobility and mental health, it also has a big economic impact.

The economy lost Tk56,000 crore ($6.5 billion) in 2020 from traffic, according to the Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

In 2018 they found Dhaka traffic wastes 5 million work hours and costs the economy Tk37,000 crore ($4.35 billion).

After two years of lockdowns and school closures, everything is back to normal. On Tuesday, waiting for a motorcycle ride amid a chaotic traffic jam, Sarjil Masud, posted on traffic update group on Facebook Traffic Alert that he had seen his rider just across the road, but his rider said that it was impossible to come over to the other side, as both the roads were packed to the brim.

"After work from home, can we now start working from the roads?" another commuter, Tanvir Ahmed, posted on the group.

The popular group has been filled with scores of updates about how almost all the roads in the capital have come to a standstill for the past few days.

Severe traffic jams lasting hours were seen these past few days in various parts of the capital, including Mohakhali, Farmgate, Kawran Bazar, Banglamotor, Shahbag, Dhanmondi, Gulshan, Banani, Moghbazar and Mohammadpur.

Members of law enforcement agencies were struggling to handle the pressure of vehicles.

Suja Chowdhury, a traffic inspector at the intersection of Bijay Sarani, said: "The number of vehicles on the road has increased and this has caused severe traffic jams. However, work is being done to reduce traffic congestion."

DMP Additional Commissioner (Traffic) Munibur Rahman said: "Many vehicles were parked on the side of the road at schools. With schools and colleges in full swing, the number of vehicles on the road has increased, not to mention the pressure of office-going people. This has caused severe traffic congestion. We are struggling to cope, but we are continuing our work."

Although this remains a common phenomenon, the recent gridlocks were blamed on the reopening of secondary and higher secondary educational institutions, which had been closed across the country for two years, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Office-goers were joined by the school-going commuters, which were evidently absent for the last two years, as most academic activities took place virtually during that period.

On Tuesday, Afzal Ahmed left his home in Basabo at 8:30am for his office in Farmgate. “The commute usually takes one hour, but today it took nearly two hours.”

A passenger of a bus going from Baipail to Dhaka at the Farmgate signal said: "I have not seen such a jam for a long time. If my mother wasn’t with me it wouldn’t have been much of a problem. She is suffering from the heat.”

The bus driver's assistant Sumon said it took three hours to reach Farmgate from Baipail, when it usually takes less than an hour.

Economic losses

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 10% of the country's population lives in and around Dhaka, as all the major infrastructures of governance, including the secretariat, the best educational institutions, and medical facilities are all concentrated in Dhaka.

Additionally, Dhaka city alone accounts for one-fifth of Bangladesh’s GDP and nearly half of the country’s jobs.

Due to increasing demand, the number of private cars has also been going up. The number of vehicles registered for traffic in the capital has more than tripled in the last 10 years.

However, the average speed of those vehicles has been declining over the years.

“As per our Towards Great Dhaka report, in the last 10 years, average driving speed has slowed from 21km/h to less than 7km/h, and 3.2 million working hours are wasted every day due to congestion, World Bank program leader and senior transport specialist Rajesh Rohatgi told Dhaka Tribune.

The average driving speed of seven kilometers per hour does not only physically take a toll on commuters, but also takes a toll on the economy.

According to researchers from BIDS and PRI, around 6%-10% of the country's GDP is lost indirectly to the city's traffic congestion.

Traffic congestion in Dhaka has long been taking a heavy toll in five sectors including working hour loss, additional fuel consumption, pavement damage, an accident during peak hours, and environmental impact, thus causing a daily loss of Tk153 crore in 2020, according to ARI.

The study estimated that people waste 19 million working hours per day, whose economic value is Tk137 crore.

As per the World Bank, the average speed situation in Dhaka city is alarming. The more the speed reduces, the higher the loss becomes.

The study also found that 40% of additional fuel is burned during traffic congestion.

The economic value of this additional fuel is Tk4.2 crore.

The economic value of environmental impact due to congestion, which increases air pollution and causes people's death by various respiratory diseases, was Tk8.7 crore.

Between 1995 and 2005, the population in Dhaka increased by 50% and traffic by 134%. Traffic congestion not only is a burden on the economy but also increases air pollution in cities adversely affecting the health of dwellers, Rajesh Rohatgi also said, citing the need to promote public transport and active transport like walking and cycling in Dhaka.

Even on Monday, Dhaka’s air was classified as “unhealthy” as the nation's capital ranked the 2nd worst in Air Quality Index (AQI) recording a score of 186 at 9 am. Meanwhile, Delhi and Kolkata ranked 1st and 3rd consecutively with AQI scores of 236 and 177 respectively.

AQI score between 201 and 300 is considered “poor,” while 301 to 400 is considered “hazardous.”