A social net gone wrong

Mahmudur Rahman | Update:

Traffic-JamThe decision to ban rickshaws on roads where the circular bus services will run is being met with mixed feelings. On one hand environmentalists are aghast at the zero emission tri-wheelers being taken off the streets to make way for the fuel guzzling black smoke emitting vehicles. On the other, it is a ‘must do’ to ease the otherwise chaotic traffic snarls that bedevil Dhaka. And yet rickshaws propel other businesses that are a pivotal cog in the economy. From the bodies of the vehicles to the various repairs and spare parts required, rickshaws support small businesses not to mention roadside eateries and street vendors.

True, rickshaws prevent basic exercise such as walking but then the footpaths are vanishing thanks to street vendors and shop encroachment. It’s another dart in the subject circle of urban planning. With the lack of new roads and the eating up of small alleys thanks to vendors and shops, space for engine-run vehicles are on the decline. Coaching centres in residential areas are resulting in unplanned car parking along small side lanes, further exacerbating the crisis. But at the end of the day, rickshaws aren’t the only offenders contributing to traffic jams.

Thirty-seven percent of public transport roams the streets without proper papers. The absence of proper bus stops, bar a very few, add to the conundrum. Dhaka’s roads weren’t meant to accommodate the nearly 300 vehicles that descend each day and now we have the menace of motor-cycles cum motor taxis that are flouting all the traffic rules.

Nigeria put a stop to new vehicles on the roads to prevent the chaotic conditions and Kolkata was famous in phasing out cycle rickshaws on all roads sans provincial outlying areas. The hand-pulled version is allowed on a very few select roads all of which were under a leftist government. Auto rickshaws or CNGs are also restricted barring certain roads and our own ‘lagunas’ have made a reappearance even after the police commissioner’s declaration that none of them have valid papers.

There has to be legal alternatives for public transportation even as the metro rail and overhead rail projects progress for the future. Buses are the answer given the disappearance of the micro buses but these are in such dilapidated condition that they pose as public danger rather than convenience. At the end of the day the time has come for reduction in the numbers of private vehicles on the streets and to an extent the idea of higher taxation for owners of more than one vehicle isn’t as bad an idea after all. And let’s not leave government transportation out of the equation. ‘Emergency’ duty vehicles were never meant for shopping and coaching centre duties in the first place.

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