It has been some time since I personally have written about the sorry state of our public transport system, especially the buses. And I think it important to mention the reasons for this.
For one, due to, again, personal reasons, the nature of my commute has changed. Where I was going six days, I now go three. Where I was leaving from, that too has shifted.
More importantly though, due to certain financial changes and the availability of Uber and especially Pathao, the cost of the commute (if it is measured not only in terms of fare, but also comfort and time spent on the road) on a bus seems to me, personally, no longer worth it.
Perhaps, in this regard, I have been selfish, and on this charge I must plead guilty. But buses are such an essential and crucial aspect of Dhaka life that one cannot ignore them for too long before the ugliness that plagues the system rears its ugly ahead again.
Two recent cases have brought it back up from slumber: Rajib, a 22-year-old man, who had his arms ripped off when two buses collided, and 18-year-old Rozina, who lost her leg when it was run over by a BRTC bus on Airport Road.
Rajib is now dead and Rozina continues to have one solitary leg.
While some have brought up the issue of neglect on the part of the pedestrians with accidents such as these (for example, Rozina was jaywalking and not using the foot-over bridge at the time), and these, to a great extent, contribute to the holistic ecosystem of indifference that exists as part of Dhaka’s streets, when it comes to buses, and how often they contribute to the unbearable state of traffic, there are no two ways about it.
Along with MRTs, buses provide possibly one of the most essential and feasible public transport solutions to any city, and nowhere is this more evident than in Dhaka. Without buses, for most of the population, going from one place to another is simply not affordable, as both rickshaw and auto-rickshaw fares continue to rise.
For the absolute working-class, for the daily commute, unless you fall on a very specific rung (and above) on the socio-economic ladder, there is simply no viable option.
It is understood that, when it comes to flouting the rules of traffic, everyone is to blame. From the buses and pedestrians to the cars and the VIPs and the rickshaws/auto-rickshaws, the “tempos,” the police, the trucks, and so on.
The persistence of such a culture explicitly states that the value of the working-class life is irrelevant and immaterial to the authorities
But (and I start from the least offensive) the amount they contribute to the overall traffic nuisance is undeniable. Their presence on the streets is nothing more than an utter nuisance, as they continue to take passengers on board in the middle of the road, with complete disregard for the inconvenience caused, and the string of vehicles piling up behind them.
They literally compete on the street for passengers, weaving in and out of lanes (these lanes are nothing more than two-dimensional comic strips), missing other vehicles by inches and millimetres, and jostling and hitting each other to move them out of the way.
I cannot count the number of times I have almost been squashed between two buses coming too close to each other in their search for transportational glory, merely because one does not have the patience or the selflessness to let the other move forward, or simply because the driver did not like the other one’s face.
And these drivers continue to operate on our streets without a driver’s licence, and when accidents do occur, there is no accountability.
Honestly, it does not matter that these services are owned by politically-backed individuals or thuggish politicians themselves; the government’s continued inaction in ensuring the safety of the common citizen in this regard has become unacceptable.
The persistence of such a culture does not merely indicate, but explicitly states that the value of the working-class life is irrelevant and immaterial to the authorities, and that, implicitly, governmental policy and the day-to-day functions of the state have no room to seriously tackle these problems head on. But, more importantly, and perhaps more depressingly, it is that, if you have the power, and you know the right people, you can literally get away with murder.
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.