How long does it take to go from Bangladesh Television to Motijheel or Shahbag? Or to the opposite direction, say, to Uttara via bashundhara-kuril-Bishwaroad? 4 or 5 years ago, the answer would be– 35 to 45 minutes, depending on the traffic. But now, only God knows. Even if you are fortunate enough to thrust into a bus, it is quite impossible to reach motijheel before 1 hour and a half, and if the destination is Uttara, sometimes it would take almost 2 hours.
And if you need to go to Ghazipur or Mirpur, you can easily take the whole day’s fuel with you, prepared to take a nap too, may be you will reach there by evening. Now, who, or what are responsible? The reason is obviously “traffic congestion”. And the calculation of time given here only applies if you can get on board a bus or a taxi. The first question comes to any commuter is, shall I get a transport? There are many pompous names of the bus services like “sitting service”, “Direct” etc. but all in all they all are beyond capacity. The gentlemen can somehow manage to get into a bus after failing to catch the handle of 5 or 6 buses, but the condition of the ladies beggar’s description. Having seen the opportunity, the cng-drivers or rickshaw-pullers escalates the fare sky-high. There is no limit of fares, and the commuting people are agreed even with this unfair means, still they cannot get a transport. What is the amount of loss because of this delay due to traffic jam? In a word, it is irreparable.
A study conducted in 2010 by Roads and Highways Department of Bangladesh said that Traffic congestion in Dhaka eats up approximately 19,555 crore taka ($3 billion) every year (http://www. thedailystar. net/newDesign/news-details. php? nid=147756) which includes travel time cost, cost of excess fuel burnt, revenue loss by passenger transport operators, environmental damage and cost of traffic accidents. The environmental pollution and physical damage deserves special attention, which can be observed if we look at our children.
Most of them have to use spectacles, many of them are suffering from asthma, no need to mention that we are losing our hearing power by high level of sound pollution, which eventually affects the citizens psychologically, the impact of which cannot be measured in monetary value. Bangkok can be a good example of this damage. When they were considered as “emerging tiger”, their transport system could not cope with the rapid development, and the severe loss caused by traffic congestion almost stalled their economic growth.
What are the reasons behind this intolerable traffic congestion? Anyone would say that we have got too few roads for too many people. Well, that is true, we have got approximately 16 million people in Dhaka, and when we add the fact that all the major commercial organizations, industries and garments factories are built up in this city along with cantonment and Border Guard Headquarter, the reason becomes obvious. And people are coming like tidal wave; everything is centered in Dhaka and they believe that if they somehow manage to come here, there will be something for livelihood.
But one fact everyone ignores is the mismanagement of transportation and traffic system in Dhaka, and the rest falls upon us. Let us look at some examples and a model route, say, Rampura TV center to Shahbag. When you see the procession of thousands of brand new private cars, would you say that Bangladesh is a poor or under-developed country? It is tough to find the slightest gap in between cars, and thousands have been parked by roadside. These parked vehicles occupy at least one-third of each side of the road, creating a “bottleneck” which is a major cause for traffic congestion.
Not to mention that most of the cars have only 2 or 3 passengers inside, what wastage of space! A private car takes 4 times space of a rickshaw, carrying one-fourth of the passengers. Similarly, a double-decker occupies the space for 4 or 5 private cars, carrying 100 passengers on an average, while those 5 private cars carry maximum of 20 passengers, if they carry 4 people each, in reality which never happens. If it is a jeep or microbus, the space occupied is more while the passenger carried remains 2 to 4. Let us set our eyes upon public transport.
These were meant to be the solution for traffic congestion, but they are adding to the problem due to mismanagement. Each of these public buses has got different owners, so they are competing for passengers. While the road capacity is less than necessary, in every minute two or three buses of different companies are boarding passengers blocking the road, having no attention to the bottleneck they are creating. The passengers are making queues on the road, making the condition worse, and we cannot use even the half of the road capacity.
The City Corporation and Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripokkho (RajUK) have got some responsibility behind the situation too. They are giving permission for building up gigantic shopping malls just beside the road, without even checking if they have got any parking space or not. Let us take Mouchak market on the DIT road, and if we go to Malibag, there are two big shopping malls named Hosaf twin tower and Concord Twin tower, and after those there is Karnaphuli Garden city. On the opposite direction there is Mogbazar Arong and Vishal Plaza.
None of these shopping malls have got sufficient, or in most cases, any parking space, while the majority of the customers have got private cars. They are parking on the road, making traffic congestion, and then asking one another that why doesn’t anyone do anything about it. Irony, is not it? The last screw on the coffin was the monstrous shopping mall named Jamuna Future Park. The mall is not yet completely in operation, yet the traffic system of this busy road is almost destroyed by the heavy traffic from several directions, and it is beyond imagination what will happen after the full-scale operation.
Again, there are the new campus of North-South University, Viqarunnisa Noonn School, Scholastica School and Corporate office of Grameen phone, and only the sufferers know the misery. Let us go back to the activities of us, that is to say, the citizens of Dhaka. The disturbance we, the pedestrians are making, is called “side friction” in transportation engineering, which includes roadside parking, encroaching the footpath as a result of which pedestrians have to walk through the vehicle path, leaving construction materials on the footpath and on the road, repairing works or the parked cars of several rent-a-car shops.
Another side friction is the side roads without any planning, which not only causes unnecessary congestion but also increases accidents. The pedestrian crossing is a major headache; there are no foot-over bridges in most of the busy crossings, and where there are foot-over bridges, the pedestrians are too busy to climb on any of it, preferring to cross the busy road running in front of high-speed vehicles. Anyone can observe this incident if just get on the foot-over bridges at Farmgate or Newmarket junction and the congestion caused by it.
The intersections and the idea of “VIP roads” are necessary to mention. God knows who invented this idea of VIP roads; we can see that the queue is getting longer in one road because the VIP road is opened for 10 times longer than other roads in an intersection. To solve the problems in the junctions, some “Roundabouts” were constructed, but those who planned it had not the slightest idea how vast a space a “Roundabout” might be needed. The result is more congestion. Let us discuss about some possible solutions, which lies within the causes of congestion.
Many people think that increasing the number of roads and lanes is the only solution, but that is just a part of it. We can easily guess that if we build more roads, the person who uses one car today will buy another car tomorrow. If we look at the private cars in Dhaka, we can easily find the proof. There are only one or two persons in the car, and many of them have more than one car, and probably planning to buy another. The main thing is, in the modern transportation system, only increasing the number of road is a short-term and bad solution.
We need sustainable solution, and so we must go for capacity management and traffic management. One suggested, though very tough, solution could be stop the import of private cars along with registration of new cars, right at this moment. If we could not do this, there is a good possibility that after 5 years the cars will stand still on the road and we will walk on their roofs. We, too, have to be reasonable. We buy cars for some luxury, but it is adding some element to the already congested megacity.
Here we could follow the model of Singapore and Hong Kong, which are lot smaller than Dhaka, and their population density is almost similar to Dhaka, but they could reduce congestion just by controlling the number of private cars. First, there is very high tax on private cars, and the registration fees are much higher than the price of the car itself. Second, they give license to only a selected number of cars, according to the capacity of the city. But implementing these restrictions calls for viable alternatives, and well-managed public transport could be one.
The monorail and metro rail services of those cities are highly developed, while we have none. Underground railway is not very feasible for a “built-up” city like Dhaka; the cost of constructing the tunnels avoiding the unplanned utility network will cost huge amount of money and time. Subsidizing this kind of projects is not feasible; this will be an onerous task for the Government, and even after subsidizing, the payback of investment will require charging every passenger a few hundred bucks to go from Uttara to Motijheel. Constructing flyovers seems a lucrative solution, but unplanned flyovers can increase the congestion more and more.
Mohakhali flyover is a good example of this, and recent constructions do not give us much hope, as they are not part of any integrated and coordinated planning process. Another example of bad planning is the Gulistan-Jatrabari flyover which is now under construction. It was even postponed due to the protest of specialists. The major flaws are unplanned and too many toll plazas, blocking all the alternative routes for the convenience of collecting toll, very narrow ‘clear height’, very narrow space by the side of the flyover etc, which could paralyze at least 3 national highways.
If we follow the route, we can see that 95% of incoming traffic of Dhaka will land on Gulistan, while it is only 5% currently. The company will make their profit, but this will not solve the congestion problem. So, what can be a viable alternative? One good alternative is “Mass transport”, for example, bus, double-decker etc. But let us look at our public transport first. Almost all the public buses in Dhaka are owned by small companies or owners, of which 57% are privately owned. So there is no coordinated management or permanent employees; they run on daily wages or contracts.
The result is the sick competition of catching passengers. There is overtaking, blocking the road by standing side by side instead of queues and no time schedule. So whoever has the ability to spend a bit more tries to avoid buses. It can be mentioned that Government owned BRTC bus services cannot operate on many routes due to the protest of these private bus owners. 83% of these buses have only one door, and the passengers have to get on board by climbing two steps, the average height of climbing is 17 inches.
So it takes 12 seconds on an average for a passenger to get on board, and the average stoppage time of a bus is 3 minutes and 53 seconds, while for a double-decker it is 5 minutes and 58 seconds, and they are blocking the road for the whole time, causing bottlenecks. The transport specialists of BUET have proposed a new idea of Bus Rapid Transit or BRT. There will be “exclusive” lanes for public transport, where they will go through without facing any traffic signal, while the private transports will face the signals.
The purpose is to carry as many passengers as possible in as little space as possible, and for this, private transports must be discouraged. The private transport will have to pay high rate of toll if they carry less than 4 passengers. The buses will have high platform at the bus stop, automatic ticket system, wide and automatic doors which will create horizontal queues instead of vertical ones, and lower footsteps. The buses will maintain strict schedule, and to ensure this, they will have to come under a few companies or consortiums so that they will not compete with each other on the road for passengers.
There will be no bus terminals like Gabtoli or Mohakhali. In a survey in 2008, it has been found that it takes 2 hours and 10 minutes to go from Uttara to Motijheel via Rampura, which can be reduced to approximately 52 minutes if this exclusive lane system can be introduced. It is true that there will be some initial investments and protests from the owners, but long-term dedicated and visionary planning and communicating the benefits can bring this dream into reality. Let us consider commuter traffic, the management of which is very essential for decentralization of Dhaka.
One of the reasons that the office going people do not want to live in the outskirts of the city is that there is no good transport from outskirt to the center. As for megacities like London, many major organizations’ offices are located at the center, but many of the workers reside in zone 5 or 6 where living costs are lower, and it takes less than an hour to go from zone 6 to central London by Underground railway or Metro Rail Service. In Dhaka, commuter train services can be a good alternative. Currently there is a commuter train called “Turag” in Dhaka-Tongi route and another called “Narayanganj local” in Dhaka-Narayanganj route.
While ‘Turag’ is operated by Bangladesh Railway, Narayanganj local is operated by private owner, who hired the train from Bangladesh Railway and making profit by operating 10 up and 10 down services daily. As the first step to decentralization, sub-urban residential zones can be built up which will be connected to commercial areas of Dhaka by commuter trains. There will be some problems with ‘level-crossings’ though; there are 28 major level-crossings in Dhaka, so increasing commuter trains will increase congestion in these crossings. To avoid this, underpass or overpass will have to be constructed.
All of these are short-term solutions, and if they are successful, we can go for long-term solutions, which include a major traffic management plan with the support of traffic survey, detecting the major congestion points and building coordinated flyovers and interchanges and improving the traffic signal system. The population inflow towards Dhaka must have to be reduced, the trades and commerce should move towards the port cities. The garments factories must be removed outside Dhaka along with major industrial complexes and the long awaited secretariat replacement plan to Agaragao from central Dhaka must be implemented.
The City Corporation and Rajuk must stop giving permission for constructing mega shopping malls to save parking space. And above all, we, the public, will have to take some responsibilities ourselves before blaming the Government only. Let us make a habit of walking instead of using cars or rickshaws for very short distance. Let us use the foot-over bridges, let us stop parking by the road. To save our dearest city, let us make this little sacrifice; this sacrifice will pay in kinds.