The government passed a new Road Transport Act on 19 September 2018. Transport owners and workers called for a strike that brought the entire country to a standstill, demanding that the law be amended. The transport owners and worker organisations came up with a proposal to amend 34 of the sections in the law. The road transport ministry took 29 of these into cognizance and recommended that these be amended. All initiatives for safe roads are being obstructed by pressure from the transport owners and workers. How do you view this situation?

This is an indication of the government's weakness. The government's competence is extremely disappointing. There are many parties involved in passing a law. In the case of this law, the transport owners and workers are just one of the parties. The law was passed based on discussions and recommendations from many other parties too. But the objections of just one party have been taken into cognizance. The government is clearly submissive to the bus owners and workers.

When the law is amended, the bus owners and workers become reckless, getting the message that they can do whatever they want. If the government is weak in the transport sector, it is meaningless to have this law. Under such circumstances, passing such a law is just a farce.

In response to the student's movement, the committee formed by the prime minister's office issued 30 directives. Most of these dealt with routine responsibilities regarding road discipline and could be rapidly implemented. But why hasn't it been possible to fully implement these directives?

This government has been consecutively in power. This is not the time to issue directives, it is time to ensure these are carried out. Why haven't these been implemented all this time? If only now, after so long, it is being said to carry out the directives, that means the failure to do so all these days, is being excused. There is no accountability for failing to follow the directives. This mindset must be changed. As a part of accountability, the question must be asked as to why the roads are still not safe despite so many directives and recommendations.

Much of the taxpayers' money has been spent on drawing up papers on what is to be done. There is no dearth of recommendations and directives. Many impressive reports have also been prepared in this regard. There needs to be directives to ensure all this is carried out. Those who issued the directives could ask why these have not been implemented. They are fully aware that these directives will amount to nothing because of the culture of impunity.

In recent years it has been seen that the transport owners and workers have, in effect, held the passengers hostage by hiking up bus fares and calling strikes against punishment of drivers and demanding amendments in the law and so on. What is your view on all this?

Unless the government takes a stern stance, the bus owners and workers will use their clout to repeatedly bring the country to a standstill, with the passengers held hostage. The government has to think of a different strategy. Deaths on the roads are on the rise. The government has to adopt a stern stance or else the situation will not change.

The problem will not be solved with stern laws if the concerned agencies are lenient. There are now thousands of owners in the transport sector and they are uncontrolled. The beneficiaries are on the committee that issues route permits. The leaders take permits for lucrative routes from the committee, depriving others.

For the transport leaders, getting route permits is enough. Then they go for making easy money. Anyone using those routes will have to use their banners too. The bus owners have to pay huge amounts to use those banners. It is the middlemen who are benefitting from the entire process.

The bus owners are having to pay "toll" at the bus terminals. They have to pay the police on the roads. So they will have to ensure these expenses are covered and it is the passengers who ultimately have to pay the price. The owners want a specific fixed revenue and make a contract accordingly with the bus drivers and helpers. Nowhere in the world is there such a system.

For over a decade is has been seen that the transport owners and workers are within the government. And so, it is alleged, the government looks after their interests rather than the interests of the public.

They are the bus owners and they are the ones in charge of making decisions. They have a huge syndicate. They make millions by issuing route permits. Those giving the route permits are from the ruling party. They take permission and give these permits to others on contract. That is why the public transport problems are getting more and more complicated by the day. Unless this state of affairs is changed, the government and the people will have to suffer more.

How would you evaluate the performance of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), Dhaka Metropolitan Police and the two Dhaka city corporations in maintaining order on the capital's roads?

They are all more eager to carry out the work where there is purchase and procurement, where expenditure is involved. Managing the transport system in a mega city like Dhaka is an extremely difficult and complex task. It will not do if the government institutions, involved in bringing order to the transport system, endeavour to do so in the manner of implementing projects. This task must be carried out day and night, 24 hours a day, for 365 days a year, with sincerity and commitment. Every day the number of vehicles and pedestrians is increasing. So the work is a continuous one.

The two mayors of Dhaka were elected after they made a long string of promises. Unfortunately, they cannot even run their own institutions properly. They first have to manage their own institutions if they want to manage the city properly, or else no one will pay them any heed. With his institution riddled with mismanagement in its transport management, can the mayor evade liability when a vehicle of the city corporation hits and kills a person?

The concerned authorities oversimplify the issue of road discipline. They blithely declare, "We have done this, and so all will be fine." This is nothing but a display of their incompetence. Nothing tangible is done and the problems simply worsen. These institutions are not accountable to the people.

These organisations do not work with focus and attention, but simply take up various temporary drives, which are nothing more than eyewash. They lack the mindset of working with continuity. In the developed world, more or less all the drivers are educated and adhere to the laws, but even so the concerned agencies work with continuity.

Over four years ago a 'Bus Route Rationalisation' or 'Bus Route Franchise' was taken up to prevent reckless bus driving and competition in the capital city. The committee formed in this regard has held 18 meetings so far. What are the hindrances to implementing this initiative? Do you think this is intentionally being delayed?

'Bus Route Rationalisation' or 'Bus Route Franchise' (BRF) is a global model. If this was to be implemented, the present public transport system would have to undergo an evaluation. Not all on the committee are public transport experts. They have been appointed to the committee by influence. They are in a delusion.

The 2015 report of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) details how this is done. There cannot be thousands of owners. The buses in Dhaka will run under five companies. First, the public transport authority must be manned by professionals who will every day oversee the Bus Route Franchise operations. If BRF is started up without ensuring institutional capacity, this will simply be like any other short-term project.

The bus franchise committee is in the clutches of devious quarters who are demanding Tk 1 billion (Tk 100 crore) to start up this initiative. Given the demand of Dhaka's transport, if any foreign company was given the BRF task, the government on the contrary would get Tk 1 billion in royalties. Instead of the government getting VAT and tax, the committee is now wanting to borrow money. This is giving a chance to opportunists.

According to official statistics, the number of deaths in road accidents has increased over the past few years. The deaths due to road accidents didn't abate even during the prevalence of coronavirus. Whenever there is an accident, a few weeks are spent on discussions and safe roads and then it's back to square one. Will this situation continue? What can be done at the moment to ensure safe roads?

There needs to be a radical change. Simply addressing the problems technically will not be enough. The public transport syndrome has become more and more complex and is now a national problem. We have made the transport system so disorderly and chaotic that the government will not be able to take any innovative steps in the prevailing system. The entire transport system has to be revamped. Unless the prevailing system is reassessed, the problem won't be resolved.

The road 'disease' has become political. The transport owners are within the government as an unscrupulous coterie. So the solution must be started up with political patronage. A sustainable solution to the problem requires political commitment. The service of professionals must be utilised.

Constructing high rise buildings does not mean development, an efficient transport system is essential too. If order is restored to Dhaka's transport sector, this can be replicated in other cities too. If this unscrupulous circle in the transport sector can be broken, the government's image will improve.

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