DURING 1996, the total length of Dhaka city's roads was about 5.0% less than what it is now (2006). During last one decade, or to be more specific from 1999 to 2005 (June), a large number of Dhaka city's roads namely Progoti Sarani, Hare Road, Kamal Ataturk Avenue, Phoenix Road, College Road, Gulshan Road, Mazar Road, Darus Salam Road, Shaymoly Road, Mirpur 1 to Mirpur 10, Shamoli-Russel Square, Sonargaon Road, d) Mirpur 11, Mirpur 12 and Mirpur 10, Taltola, Tongi Bridge to bypass including 107 bridge, Saidabad-Rampura, Mohakhali-Mogbazar Intersection and Gulshan Avenue, Russel Square- Azimpur and Mazar Road-Gabtoli Bus Terminal, Taltola to Hotel Sonargaon via Khamar Bari, Farm Gate, Staff Road to Farmgate intersections, Kakoli, Chairman Bari, Jahangir Gate, Allen Bari and Bijoy Sarani, Zero point, North South Road, Nayabazar-Chittranjan Avenue, Bahadur Shah Park and Dholaikhal, Bangla Motor-Mogbazar-Malibag-Kamlapur-Atish Dipankar Road and Banglamotor-Shahbag-Matsha Bhaban- Curzon Hall, were all developed under DUTP (Dhaka Urban Transport Project) and appreciable and improved roads are visible in almost all corners of the capital city at present.
Besides, 22 intersections along-with 7.5 km adjacent roads to different intersections at different points were improved vigorously. In addition, footpaths measuring 158.01 km in total all over Dhaka City Corporation area at different points were improved substantially.
Three inter district bus terminals -- at Saidabad, Gabtoli and Mohakhali -- were improved (re-constructed) at the cost of Tk 478.1 million. In Motijheel and Dilkusha area, 22000 sqm parking space was improved. Flood-damaged roads measuring 41.50 km were repaired during 1999 to 2003 fiscal years. Nine foot overbridges (measuring 0.50 km in total) were constructed during 2002 to 2005. For non-motorised transport (NMT) lanes measuring 19.47 km were improved. Besides, Mohakhali flyover (1011.797 m) was constructed (total construction cost Tk 1260 million only) and completed in November 2004. Besides, 59 number of intersections were signalised (works completed in fiscal year 2004-2005) at a cost of Tk 136.2 million.
All these development activities were carried out under the DUTP funded-project, out of loan money received from the World Bank. The total costs for all these road-related physical development activities were Tk 5.46 billion only until June 2005. The Roads and Highway Department (RHD) and the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) are the implementing agencies of the DUTP. Besides, the second flyover (2.2 km) was constructed at Khilgaon recently at the cost of Tk 800 million only out of Government of Bangladesh (GOB) fund and the implementing agency was Local Govt. Engineering Department (LGED).
In spite of all these physical developments, the movement of vehicles on different city roads (including VIP roads) is continuously getting complicated and more and more hazardous, day by day. The Ministry of Communications or Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives (LGRD&C) appears to be least concerned about the worsening road traffic/transport movement situation in Dhaka city. The Ministry of Finance or the Ministry of Commerce, as it appears, is doing routine works facilitating import of small motorised vehicles (new and re-conditioned) every year, which is continuously adding to traffic jams of serious nature every day on Dhaka and other city roads. The problem is that the Ministry of Communication or its Chief Executive has been giving declarations after declarations, since early 2002 that magnetic train service would be introduced between Dhaka and Chittagong. But this tantamounts to mockery to the city dwellers of Dhaka and Chittagong both.
The authorities responsible for facilitating traffic movement in Dhaka city (and in the country as well) are least bothered or almost unconcerned as to the fast deteriorating traffic system which may collapse at any time almost in totality. The apprehended 'doom's day' is heavily knocking at the door spontaneously and continuous import of motorised vehicle every year (about 85% for Dhaka city) at an increasing rate, is fast adding to the traffic hazard problem at an increasing speed. Removal of rickshaws from the city roads will hardly be helpful in improving traffic movements in the city at present. Import of small vehicles like motor cars, jeeps, taxicabs, scooters, three wheelers, motor cycles or even minibuses, may be stopped for Dhaka city at least for next five years as a first step to address the already saturated traffic related complications. Then rigorous and meticulous technical examination of the 'road worthiness' of all the buses and minibuses (which are more than ten years old) needs to be carried out (not by the BRTA alone) with the help of appropriate technical teams. And the buses/minibuses found to not worth for roads should be removed.
The estimated 300 illegal rickshaw-making factories, situated mainly in old Dhaka, may be dismantled immediately and at least 50% of the total number of rickshaws now in operation in secondary and connecting roads, in Dhaka city, may be removed within next few months. The number of CNG-three wheelers may be limited to 10,000 in Dhaka city by June 2006. Side by side, the government may create facilities for import of duty-free 500 CNG buses by private entrepreneurs.
Side by side, as per proposal of the IAP (Immediate Action Plan) suggested in DITS some twelve years back (1993), there is a dire necessity to expand bus services. But at the same time it is equally necessary to involve rationalisation of services to ensure the optimal vehicle sizes are used on all routes. The transport industry is very fragmented in its structure. This possibly explains the lack of coherent service planning and innovation within the industry as a whole. In all forms, public transport owners operate a few vehicles leading to fierce competition on the street without even little concern for the real-needs of the users. A balance is needed to encourage competition between providers, on the one hand, and use of government intervention to force industry restructuring, on the other. There is a need to recognise that none of the parties wins in an environment where public resources, roads, and bus pick-up areas become a chaotic market place for service providers to jostle for customers. Inadequate past investment in the transport sector has not only caused the infrastructure capacity to increasingly lag behind the growth of transport demand, but also exposed this transport system to a serious rate of deterioration.
There are recommendations from the experts for restructuring of the industry to encourage the formation of a small number of large operators, rather than a large number of very small operators as at present, and at the same time, increased enforcement of regulations aimed at eradicating inefficient, unsafe and ineffective practices which prevail in the current industry.
Some consider Bangladesh to be a fledging democracy which is still trying to find out a workable balance for co-existence between the government and opposition through political deliberations. Strikes and demonstrations are common features of political expression and often these activities spill over to vandalistic destruction of transport assets. The citywide transport strikes, which occur from time to time, are often called for reasons totally unrelated to concerns in the transport industry. Because of the risk of mob violence, investors in the industry -- bus owners -- are hardly willing to outlay large sums on high quality vehicles on Dhaka city's roads, for fear of losing their investments through wanton destruction on the part of, at times, by some politically motivated, violent mob. Until law and order can be better guaranteed, the level of investment required to upgrade bus services in Dhaka is not likely to come from the private sector.
In all such endeavours, the role of the government is paramount. The government has invested billions of taka (mainly loan money) for vigorous improvement of city roads. But the issue of the proportion of the number of motorised vehicles vis-à-vis availability of road-area in Dhaka city has been overlooked so long. This has led to the present traffic complications of serious magnitude. Will the government find out some time to attend to these issues? If not, there are fears that the capital city of Dhaka will have to be abandoned within next few years.
The writer is a former Secretary of Ministry of Science & ICT