The inner workings of the BRTA need to change, but there is more to the picture
Reading the reasons in the newspapers on November 20, 2019 for the countrywide transport strike, one wonders if one can actually believe what one reads.
Asked why the owners and drivers called a strike -- a representative of the Bangladesh Truck-Covered-Van Owners Association said that the government should postpone the new law.
However, it is fair to say that the owners and drivers have known the details of the new law for a long time, and have done absolutely nothing to improve their overall situation.
This representative is quoted in the Dhaka Tribune as saying: “There is a huge crisis of skilled drivers with valid driving licenses. More than 50% of drivers have no licenses against five million registered vehicles. As the punishment is high in the new law, they do not want to sit behind the steering wheel.”
He argued that a driver usually earns around Tk20,000-Tk25,000 per month. “But the new law has fines for unlicensed drivers more than that income. That’s why the drivers are not agreeing to drive and owners do not want to operate transports.”
This means that the owners and drivers believe that there is nothing wrong for passengers to be driven by drivers who have no driving licenses (or have fake licenses) and who have never been trained properly nor do they have any knowledge of the highway code.
In addition, it is quite likely that the vehicles they will drive are without valid documentation. Do the owners and drivers believe that all users of their transport are completely stupid? It appears that nobody at any level has learned anything since the Dhaka-based student protests of August 2018.
To honour the deaths, not only of the students at that time but also of the hundreds of people who die every year at the hands of unlicensed or inexperienced drivers and unfit vehicles, it is vitally essential that steps are put into place to stop these unnecessary deaths.
What is even more criminal, it seems to me, is that the bus owners have had plenty of notice to get their vehicles tested, to get the documentation in order, and it is very easy for them to renew these documents, the tax tokens, and fitness certificates.
Getting this done is very easy because most of the owners use “middle-men” for the work at the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA). For an extra Tk3,000-Tk5,000, a tax token and fitness certificate can always be “managed” through BRTA.
There is therefore no need to take your vehicle to the BRTA centre and stand in line! The “middle-men” take only the papers of the vehicle to be renewed at BRTA, at which time the “speed money” is shared around.
Clearly, much needs to be changed in the workings of the BRTA, but on the roads, much more needs to done too. This is where traffic police need to be more assertive and energetic. Unfit vehicles of all types ply the road with impunity. In Dhaka, most buses are unfit to be used.
In many cases, tires are worn out and therefore dangerous; lights, including indicator lights, are broken and/or not working; black smoke is belching out, and yet very few vehicles are stopped, prosecuted, and taken off the road.
And it is not only the four-wheeled vehicles that are the offenders or culprits. As a result of “ride-sharing,” there has been a great increase in the number of motorbikes on the road, and in many cases and places, they are a law unto themselves, and many more accidents are occurring.
They do not respect traffic lights or police signals, they often drive in the wrong or opposite direction on the road, and they are often found driving on pavements. The traffic police should deal with them much more firmly.
Last, but not least, pedestrians also have an important responsibility to be more careful and sensible. Where there are pavements, use them, and when you want to cross the road, wait for a break in the traffic; do not show what appears to be suicidal tendencies.
In addition, it is very important that parents and schools, from as early as possible, teach the children about road safety.
Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the Government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971 and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh citizenship.