“Two years ago I shifted my family from New Eskaton to Uttara only to avoid the crazy traffic that took almost six hours of my life every day. I thought it would help me to reach easily to my Gazipur’s factory office. But the situation hasn’t improved that much. Unfortunately still I need to remain stuck in traffic congestion every day for more than four hours. Often I become helpless as I can’t conduct office meetings in time. Albeit with the help of technology now I try to manage office works being stuck in the middle of long traffic, but it never can be the solution. I can’t attend my Motijheel office more than one day in a week. After a series of discussions one of my Italian buyers came to Dhaka and visited my office last week. We were about to invest together in a joint venture. But when he found that he needs two hours to travel from Banglamotor to Rupganj, he rejected my proposal saying that it’s impossible for him to live in a city where traffic jam hampers normal flow of life to such an extent. I couldn’t capitalize my business and the country lost foreign investment only because of traffic problem. Sometimes I feel really sorry for the passengers of public transports. If I feel so annoyed though I travel in an air-conditioned car, then I can understand what kind of situation they face every day.
Traffic gridlock has become a serious curse for the Dhaka dwellers. Whether it is early morning or midnight, traffic remains always busy in the capital. If the government doesn’t take effective steps to reduce this problem, the city will be completely uninhabitable”, this was how Taufiq Mahmud Tuhin, a readymade garment producer and exporter, shared his experience regarding Dhaka’s traffic. Like Taufiq Mahmud Tuhin, millions of commuters every day feel helpless and frustrated regarding the continuous traffic stalemate in the city. Huge loss of valuable working hours, health, livelihood, environment and extra liters of fuel oil and cubic metres of compressed natural gas have been creating additional pressure on our national economy. And the situation is deteriorating gradually.
There are numerous reasons why Dhaka’s traffic congestion has reached to an alarming stage. Scarcity and poor quality of roads, uncontrolled urbanization, over population, unplanned development works, violation of traffic rules, illegal car parking, vehicles with different speed, inefficient public transport management policy etc. are some of the key reasons for increasing traffic gridlock.
Dhaka covers a total area of 1353 square kilometers where it has 2,289 kilometres of road area. And among the road areas only 210 kilometres are used as main road. Any smart city needs at least 25% of the total area for its roads while Dhaka has only 7% for its road communication! As a result, even in the newer parts of Dhaka, the amount of road areas is inadequate. When the city is struggling due to shortage of road areas, the poor quality of existing roads is preventing vehicles to move with normal speed. Of 2,289-kilometre road areas of Dhaka South and North City Corporation, situation of 650 kilometres has alarmingly deteriorated. Among the Dhaka South City Corporation’s 1,050-kilometre road areas 300 kilometres are in poor condition and among the Dhaka North City Corporation’s 1,350-kilometre road areas 350 kilometres are in moribund situation. Early rains, lengthy rainy season, poor quality of drainage system and overloading of transport on the roads during the rainy season have made the experience on the roads tougher for the vehicle drivers.
Uncontrolled urbanisation and over-population are two important reasons behind Dhaka’s traffic jam. Dhaka’s area and population have been increasing gradually but the expansion of the city is not following any plan. The areas built to allow a certain amount of people were planned with certain amount of roads, but the same areas are now taking more population to meet the increasing demand, but the number of roads remains the same. It seems that there is no plan ‘B’ or ‘C’ from the part of our city planners to adopt with the sudden change.
As the traffic gridlock is hampering the normal lifestyle of the people, the government is also taking a number of initiatives to reduce the problem. They are constructing flyovers, elevated express way, metro rail, underpass, and overpass. Materials required to implement these projects are kept in an unplanned way and it is also creating traffic jam in the roads.
Violation of traffic rules is a very common scenario in Dhaka. Anyone will find that there are traffic lights, automatic traffic maintenance system and digital countdown timer in the traffic signals, but the whole traffic is maintained by the traffic police and sergeants. People often surprisingly discover that the traffic police and sergeants don’t bother about the instruction of traffic lights and digital countdown timers, rather they instruct the vehicle drivers manually. Even the manual traffic management system has shortage of human resources. According to the DMP insiders, there are around 3,250 traffic police in Dhaka and among them 2,800 traffic constables control the traffic movement at more than 600 traffic points in three shifts. In the first shift beginning from 6:00am to 2:00pm 1,350 constables work. In the second shift from 2:00pm to 11:00pm 1,400 cops manage traffic. Besides, more 150 traffic police work at 40 important points in another shift that start from 11:00pm. Every day at least 20% of the traffic police can’t work due to different reasons. It limits the number of traffic police to 950 in each shift. As there are 600 traffic points in Dhaka, less than two traffic constables can work in every point. Drivers hardly obey the traffic rules and instructions of the traffic police. Sometimes some of them run their vehicles in the wrong side exploiting their power in the broad daylight. Ignoring the traffic guidelines most of the transport drivers just become busy to reach their desired destinations as quickly as possible and they seldom get punished by the law for violating the traffic rules. Moreover, there are allegations that the people who are responsible for maintaining traffic are involved in corruption. Such scenario is rare in the world.
Moreover illegal car parking narrows the road areas and obstructs the vehicles to move smoothly. According to a recent study, illegal parking of vehicles occupies as much as 30 percent of the city streets. Lack of monitoring as well as inadequate parking facilities and the weakness in traffic management are responsible for the growing illegal parking in Dhaka. In absence of car parking facilities, vehicles are being randomly parked on the streets adjacent to shopping malls, schools, financial institutions, business establishments and government and private offices. Both the criminals and sections of the police mint money through extortion from these illegally parked vehicles. Besides, illegal grabbing of footpath prevents pedestrians from walking comfortably. Thus they walk on the street leaving the footpath and it adds additional pressure on the streets.
There are various types of vehicles running on the Dhaka streets. Numerous transports including bus, minibus, microbus, private car, truck, pickup, leguna, taxicab, CNG three-wheelers, van, horse carriage, wheelbarrow and rickshaw with different kinds of speed and no specific lane just slow down the traffic movement. For example, two millions rickshaws are run in the capital every day to meet the demand of short-distance trip. Due to their free and uncontrolled movement in the street, most of the vehicles get dragged into the traffic jam.
Inefficient transport management policy is another major cause of traffic gridlock in Dhaka streets. Albeit at present 103 transport companies have 3,926 buses in the capital, but only 7 companies have more than 100 buses. Only 50 transport companies have more than 25 buses. 1,539 individuals own a single bus of their own. Though the only state owned transport company BRTC has 970 buses, but half of them are more than ten years old. There is hardly any coordination between these 103 companies and most of them are controlled by some transport sector mafias.
Lack of powerful taxicab services in Dhaka is a serious problem. 2 separate companies are allowed to operate only 500 taxicabs in the city. There are 13,000 registered CNG-run three-wheelers, but most of the CNG-auto rickshaw drivers don’t follow meter while receiving fare. Instead of limiting the number of CNG run vehicles in public transport, the government has allowed private transports’ owners to run their vehicles using CNG.
Besides, government hasn’t fixed the number of private transport for an individual family. As a result people who have enough money are using excessive number of private transports, which is increasing pressure on the traffic management. According to a survey, 15% commuters of Dhaka are occupying more than 70% of the city streets with a huge number of private transports. Less than 1% of the Dhaka residents use private cars, but the streets are dominated by these private vehicles. The overall traffic management policy in Bangladesh encourages use of private transports, while a timely pro-people transport management policy which inspires people to use public transport could easily reduce the number of private transports in the streets.
A recent World Bank study has revealed that the city dwellers are losing 3.2 million working hours every day due to traffic jam! The speed of transports in Dhaka streets was reduced from 21 kilometres per hour to 7 kilometres per hour in the last ten years. A pedestrian can walk on the Dhaka’s footpath with a pace of 5 kilometres per hour. If the current trend of increasing the number of Dhaka resident and transport continues without escalating the number of roads in the next five years, pedestrians will be able to surpass the speed of vehicles by walking! Dhaka oriented economic activities and overpopulation are intensifying the problem further. The World Bank says 36% of the total urban population of Bangladesh lives in Dhaka. When Dhaka’s population and the number of transports are increasing respectively with a rate of 50% and 136% in every ten years, the amount of road is increasing with a rate of only 5%. According to another assessment prepared by Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK), 180,00000 people live in Dhaka at present and the number will be jumped to 350,00000 in 2035. RAJUK estimates that 432,200 transports including 331,856 private vehicles are run in the city now. In 2035, the number of transports will be increased to 919,000 including 798,000 private ones! Speed of vehicles will be reduced to 4 kilometres per hour, where international standard of vehicle speed in a city road is minimum 25-30 kilometres per hour.
Under such circumstances developing different visible infrastructures like flyovers, elevated expressway and metro rail can bring temporary solution for the city dwellers, but without formulating and implementing visionary transport management policy the situation can’t be changed. Government has to improve public transport management system. They have to find out all the ways that ensure quick movement of the city residents by using public transport. Policymakers should focus on the process of decentralization. They also can plan for setting up some satellite cities centering Dhaka. Over dependence on road communication will have to be reduced as well. Government can inspire rail communication from one part to another part of the capital. They can revive the round-waterway communication plan encircling the city to facilitate the commuters. If the government doesn’t act immediately, the city will be completely unlivable. Certainly no one expects such a situation.