There remains little strategy in coming up with solutions for Dhaka’s traffic
The decision to ban rickshaws along the circular bus routes introduced recently will work only if the after-effects are addressed. The tri-wheelers won’t vanish overnight, and we shall witness the phenomenon of clusters of them waiting to pick up passengers for the by-lanes.
These will then result in creating a blockage for emerging vehicular traffic trying to make it to the main roads, causing snarls that at best won’t be visible. If the intent is to get people to walk a little, the street vendors will have to be evicted, and that hasn’t worked at all. The whole situation looks to be bad decision-making where the consequences have not been considered.
In any case, the rickshaws have long been replaced by motorcycles as the next notoriety on the roads. Dhaka’s traffic just has too many cars and a plethora of other vehicles, including tri-vans that make the roads impassable. Add to that the return of the legunas on certain roads for all the promise of their withdrawal by Asaduzzaman Mia, the police commissioner.
These continue to ply with or without proper documentation and have no distinctive passenger stoppages. Just as in the case of the foot over-bridges, bus stops, save in Gulshan and Banani, are non-existent, and the police are powerless or unwilling to do anything about it.
Motorcycles have replaced the rickshaw in weaving through traffic without two hoots to traffic discipline and these are manned by the same persons who gleefully pose for media cameras and castigate the system. Dhaka and other major cities in the country have to be the only ones allowing so many different kinds of transport on the streets and hence the inevitable chaos on the road. The hapless police are resigned to let the system work itself out, with the major investment in traffic signal lights having gone in vain.
Rickshaws are still a necessity for the bulk of the population, especially the young and elderly, but just like cars, limits on their numbers have to be imposed. While a suggested 300 new vehicles hit the road each day, the numbers of rickshaws and motorcycles entering the traffic system is unaccounted for.
Sensible approaches, such as the odd and even numbered vehicles alternating use of roads, are still not considered. And the zoning of rickshaws has been bandied, but never really seriously considered. Circular transport can’t work if it applies only to buses, and rickshaw-pullers can’t be forced out of work overnight.
The delinquents also continue using the wrong side of the road with an impunity that borders on disdain. The rickshaw-puller refers to the need of the passenger, who remains stony-faced, and the motorcycle pleads for a couple of minutes to weave through.
The police continue to file cases, but their numbers far outweigh requirements. Mobile police to catch hold of motorbikes remain few and far between. And of course, in between, we have the ever-beckoning graft. Late Mayor Annisul Huq’s Dhaka Chaka and the Gulshan Banani rickshaw-zoning have proved solutions are possible.
It’s political and professional will that comes in the way.
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.