We have reached a point in our lives, as citizens of Dhaka, perhaps even of Bangladesh, where owning and driving a private vehicle, sans certain circumstantial conditions, should be, if not morally reprehensible, at least morally ambiguous.
The traffic situation, on top of the fact that Dhaka has been factually proven to be the worst city when it comes to air pollution, should catalyse the existence of a collective consciousness which backtracks to a position deeming the owning of a personal vehicle a luxury. Especially if it caters to the commute of one single individual.
While pollution is multifarious and multifaceted, caused by factors as obvious as our irreverent dependence on fossil fuels to the way our factories function, to the complete and total disregard we have for the way we carry out construction, when it comes to vehicular usage, there is a significant educated portion of the population who have direct control over their actions.
If we consider the state of buses, or the fact that there is construction material on the pavement, this is carried out by people who either do not have the choice to be environmentally conscious, for their livelihood depends on it, or they do not know any better due to a lack of education or awareness.
But, if one is allowed to address directly, you, the middle to upper middle class, you know how bad the situation is. You know that Dhaka’s traffic and air pollution problems are caused primarily by the number of private vehicles on the street, which are owned by people like you. This is despite the fact that most of the people living in Dhaka are, in fact, out of this strata.
Logic dictates that most people in Dhaka are actually utilizing the rather poor services provided by buses and other public transport, unable to dish up the cash for a private car. Now, it is also understandable why you, as one who is able to afford the “luxuries” (yes, let’s deign to call it that for now), wouldn’t.
For there are no alternatives, none which seem feasible, at least. As mentioned above, the service is terrible. There are too many people jampacked into too little space. The services don’t run smoothly, and the traffic remains unmoving, especially during rush hours. If you have to be at a certain place by a certain time, most likely you have to plan hours ahead, with no guarantee, even then, of reaching in due time.
And, if you are able to afford this luxury, why not? You haven’t worked so hard, spent so many meaningless hours, inside the confines of a cubicle, only to fork over your peace of mind to Dhaka’s unreliable public transport system.
And CNGs? The amount of bargaining and anxiety that entails is, most of the time, not worth it. With a private car, you are afforded the freedom to go where you wish, when you wish, most of the time, and you can rely on it in the most inopportune moments for back-up.
And consider your family: You have sons who need to commute without exhaustion, daughters who must not be molested. Considering that you must protect them at all costs, why would you even risk their safety and well-being for the sake of Dhaka’s greater good?
We should work towards stigmatizing a culture of vehicular excess
The greater good
Therein lies the question we should be asking ourselves. The greater good must come at a price and, for Dhaka, that price may be for us to sacrifice certain luxuries. Now, before fingers are pointed, I do not excuse myself from a) occasionally utilizing certain luxuries and b) not having the strength, perhaps, to make that leap of faith.
But, if we are occupying the streets to such an extent that it is bottlenecking the streets and choking the life out Dhaka (it is our fumes they inhale, the languishing working class), we should work towards stigmatizing a culture of vehicular excess.
Yes, of course we understand the value of capitalistic “freedom,” which has allowed you to have what you have, but perhaps we need to, at the very least, work towards reducing the amount of excess we have inundated our cities with.
We are quick on the draw when it comes to blaming the West for global warming, while countries like Bangladesh suffer. We must see that our country, our cities -- they are microcosms for that exact same pattern of behaviour.
We are no different, if we do the same with our majority, considering our capitalistic right, as the developed nations of the world do, hesitantly attending each COP summit with empty promises. We must be a better class of people, and our continuous behaviour in this regard has little to any moral basis for continued existence.
Yes, the matter is not simple, it is not black and white. But what of the air we breathe? Is that black or white?
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.