The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) has taken up a project to procure 700 vehicles to conduct driving tests. It is common practice across the world to take such tests through enlisted driving schools, so experts warn that the initiative to purchase the vehicles would fail, resulting in losses for BRTA.
According to the country’s existing motor vehicle laws, in order to get a licence, a driver has to take a written exam first and then the field in the next phase.
The laws say the applicants must bring their own vehicles to drive during the test. Experts call this unrealistic as all the drivers may not own vehicles. Also, the authorities do not have parking space for the vehicles at the exam centres.
BRTA offices are taking advantage of the situation and are making money by renting out motorcycles, buses, vans and other vehicles to the examinees. A candidate has to pay Tk 150 to 200 to use a vehicle just for a few minutes during the test. Local leaders of the ruling party control these businesses in nexus with officers and employees of BRTA. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) found such incidents of extorting money from the aspirants at several BRTA offices in January and April this year.
The BRTA officials were reportedly worried after the ACC drives. The Dhaka district circle of BRTA sent a letter to the BRTA headquarters seeking permission to arrange for its own vehicles to conduct the tests. The BRTA chairman then sent a letter to the road transport and bridges ministry seeking its opinion on the issue. The ministry then advised the authorities to draft a development project proposal (DPP) to procure the vehicles.
BRTA is now drafting a DPP following. It has proposed to buy 704 vehicles, including 136 motorcycles and the same number of auto-rickshaws. There are to be 72 of each vehicle including cars, microbuses, minibuses, mini trucks, buses and trucks. BRTA will charge the applicants an extra fee in the driving tests once the project is implemented.
According to BRTA officers, South Korea's aid agency KOICA assisted BRTA with the fitness testing equipment. They will approach other international aid organisations for financial assistance in this regard.
Moshiar Rahman, chairman of BRTA, said the involvement of middlemen in the driving tests has tarnished the image of BRTA. "A committee has been formed to determine how much funds might be needed for the purchase of vehicles and how they will be operated. It would be better to purchase the vehicles as BRTA is earning fees worth Tk 16 billion every year," Moshiar said.
He said the vehicles would be distributed among all the BRTA offices across the country, so they will not remain unused and maintaining them will not be a problem either.
But according to the BRTA sources the institution lacks in manpower while most of the offices do not have their own space. They run offices at BRTC bus depot, district administration campus or in small spaces. There are risks of mismanagement while the officials can misuse the vehicles too.
According to BRTA, in Dhaka and Chattogram the driving tests are held every day. In the other districts the tests are taken twice or more every month. About 450 drivers appear at the exams in Dhaka and the metropolitan cities while the number is about 150 in the districts. About 500 vehicles among the total are rented while the license aspirants pay an average of Tk 75,000 in total every day.
According to BRTA officers, 80 per cent of the applicants do not own vehicles. Those who seek licenses for driving bus and truck cannot always bring the vehicles from their employers. Many who seek the licenses before going abroad, do not own cars. So the law of bringing own vehicles is impractical.
There are 128 driving schools approved by the BRTA, but these are not yet capable of training the drivers. Experts say instead of buying vehicles BRTA should have rendered these schools effective.
There are problems in the license issuing process of the country, transportation and safety expert professor Md Shamsul Hoque said. The licenses are given for driving vehicles on the roads, but the BRTA test includes only a little driving at their office premises.
Across the world, it is a rule that the apprentice driver must be trained at an approved driving school and then appear for the exam, Hoque said. "The instructor must stay with the applicant during the exam while the vehicle is provided by the school," he added.
It will cost the institution (BRTA) a huge amount to ensure maintenance, Hoque observed.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten here in English by Nusrat Nowrin.