The case for establishing a Dhaka Public Transport Authority
To bring about any permanent change, we must first understand the roots of our problem, and then resolve it together. Last month, we had to witness the horrific deaths of two students due to the result of two buses competing for the same passengers on the same route. Students had taken to the streets in protest, demanding action against drivers and vehicles without licenses.
However, that is not the root of the problem that caused those horrific deaths. Instead, what we should be asking today is why were the bus drivers recklessly driving without any awareness or sensibility? And why were there two buses competing on the same route for the same passengers in first place?
To begin with, in our stagnant road conditions, where traffic flows at the speed of 5km/h to 6km/h, bus company owners are severely pressuring their bus drivers for numerous round trips to meet their profit margins every day. In fear of being dismissed and replaced by other drivers, the bus drivers, in their exhaustion, are ruthlessly competing on the roads for customers to meet their revenue targets.
Some drivers are driving over 14 hours a day. Severe road fatigue and tiredness is causing these bus drivers to drive unmindfully and without a fair conscience, causing fatal road accidents.
We need to ensure fair public transport worker rights first if we are to bring any sustainable change to our system.
They should not be driving more than eight hours a day, and they should not be dismissed or replaced without proper justification and compensation.
Second, our late mayor of Dhaka North, Annisul Huq, after numerous meetings with various stakeholders, was on the verge of bringing all 194 bus companies under one franchise, dispersed throughout different routes and coded into different colours.
To paraphrase something Annisul Huq mentioned in a discussion: “The benefits of a franchise will be that if the front bus gets all the passengers and a second bus arrives from behind, they still will remain in one line.
“It does not matter if the second bus leaves without any passenger, as ultimately the revenue collection from the whole day will be distributed according to the bus companies’ share of the franchise.” This franchise model is used around the world, including the UK and Australia.
In the 1980s, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher implemented the privatization of London buses through the Transport Act 1985, which was later revised in 2000. This resulted in the eventual establishment of the Transport for London Authority. We need a similar public transport act which would create a legal framework for a “Dhaka Public Transport Authority” that will plan bus routes, issue bus operating tenders on these routes, determine the quality and frequencies of bus services, digitize the ticketing system, and regulate fares under one franchise.
They could also be responsible for the management of bus stations and bus stops, and the safety and security for the citizens of this city as well. The proposed Dhaka metro rail and Dhaka ferry should be incorporated under this public transport authority, so that they may operate as an integrated transport network for the mass public.
Third, we need proper designated bus stops and bus lanes to ensure road safety for our children and efficient functioning of our transport system. An example in terms of establishing a feasible bus transport network is the Trans Milenio Bus System in Bogota, Colombia.
In 2000, when Enrique Peñalosa was elected mayor of Bogota, he cancelled all the elevated highway projects and initiated the construction and operation of a centralized bus network system consisting of designated bus lanes down the centre of the road dedicated to bus traffic and bus stops. This model was quickly replicated by numerous other cities in other nations.
So, how can we develop a proper transport system in Dhaka today?
We now have various professional experts with up-to-date local and international working experiences registered in various institutes who can be called upon to work together as a multi-disciplinary team to provide contextual solutions which are both practical and workable.
As an architect, urban designer, and transport planner, below I have summarized four necessities that could ensure a sustainable, holistic solution to the horrific road safety situation we are facing today as a nation:
• Fair public transport worker rights to prevent bus drivers from driving more than eight hours a day and avert fatal road accidents caused by road fatigues of bus drivers. They will also monitor underage teens and children from being exploited as bus drivers
• Legal framework the Dhaka Public Transport Authority who will issue bus operating tenders, manage bus depots and bus stops for the safety and security of citizens
• Designated bus stops that are a minimum 50ft to 70ft away from intersections or any type of danger from vehicle collision
• Designated bus lanes to efficiently commute passengers every day in Dhaka at a minimum speed of 20km/h
Going by the examples of other nations, we can now ascertain that it is possible to build a fair public transport system through a legal framework.
So, let us cater to these four necessities and create our fair Dhaka Public Transport Authority today, so that we may have a safe and accountable public transport system tomorrow.
Nur-e-Dipha Muttaqi Ananya is an international award-winning architect, currently also working as an Urban Designer and Transport Planner with URBECO Consultants Limited.