Dhaka struggles to restore order on the streets

UNB . Dhaka | Update:

The private university students protest against the death of Bangladesh University of Professionals student Abrar Ahmed in a road accident on Tuesday. Photo: UNBBangladesh's capital Dhaka, one of the world's most densely populated cities, is struggling to bring back discipline on its streets.

Violation of traffic rules, reckless driving and evil race on roads by drivers have become the order of the day in the capital, causing vexing traffic congestions and frequent road crashes.

On Tuesday morning, a student of Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP) was run over by a bus in front of Bashundhara Gate in Pragati Sarani, prompting private university students to block the road in front of Jamuna Future Park, which left the traffic in the area in complete disarray.

Numerous efforts and initiatives taken by the government have failed to bring back discipline on Dhaka's streets.

Long tailbacks make commuting in the city a nightmare. The traffic situation is in chaos and it has become a sort of 'identity' of Dhaka. One cannot talk about the capital without mentioning the paralysing traffic congestion.

The Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) observed special programmes to bring back discipline on the streets last year after the students' road safety movement.

But there has been no improvement.

'Rickety buses run over traffic laws'

The traffic rules awareness campaigns fell on deaf ears. No one, from the drivers to pedestrians, follow the rules. Breaking the law appears to have become the norm on the streets.

It is a herculean task for the small number of traffic policemen to enforce the law.

In September last year, DMP fixed 121 stoppages for buses and issued a number of directives including keeping doors closed while running, displaying staff's photo and mobile number, keeping updated documents and told owners to appoint drivers and assistants on fixed monthly salary.

But the transport sector shows no sign of change.

Buses pick and drop passengers wherever they want, the staff are appointed on daily wage basis, numerous unfit vehicles and human haulers are running on the streets, many driven by under-aged drivers, while many vehicles regularly use the wrong lane.

Buses still compete among themselves for passengers, a tendency transport experts blame on the practice of hiring staff on daily wage basis.

Stuck on paper

A 10-member coordination committee, headed by Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) mayor Sayeed Khokon, was formed to restructure the traffic system and reduce road chaos.

"To restore order, 8,000-9,000 buses of only six companies will be allowed to run on 22 routes," said SM Saleh Uddin, a committee member and project consultant.

"Another 4,500 new buses will be added to the current fleet," he said.

All bus staff will be employed through a due recruitment process, Saleh said, adding that transport owners will be given loans with 5-6 per cent interest to buy new buses.

Many buses that operate in Dhaka are old and rickety. Their exact number could not be known.

A 15-member committee, headed by former minister Shajahan Khan, was set up to bring city traffic under proper management and curb accidents.

Road transport minister Obaidul Quader on 17 February said the committee was asked to file a report recommending effective measures within the next 14 days.

"We'll take all necessary steps to bring discipline in city traffic," he said.

The report is yet to be filed.

'Change of mindset'

A Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) study found that over 200 bus companies operate on 194 routes in Dhaka. Seven companies own over 100 buses, leading to cut-throat competition among them and an increase in rule violation and accidents.

"No other country has so many companies involved in the public transport sector," BUET professor Shamsul Haque, a transport expert, said.

"A small number of companies should be allowed to operate to restore discipline in the capital's traffic sector."

He said stiff competition among the private transport companies for revenue led to the collapse of the entire traffic system.

During one such competition in July last year, a bus ploughed through a group of students on the Airport Road, killing two of them. The deaths triggered a countrywide movement for road safety that lasted for about a week.

During the demonstration, the protesters effectively took control of the city traffic and tried to raise awareness about following the law on the streets.

Although the general people and drivers had shown signs of change, they reverted to their old self within a few days after the movement stopped.

"The chaotic situation will not change unless we raise awareness among the people and transport operators," professor Haque said.

"The law enforcement should strictly implement the law without hesitation."

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