Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Public transport – the missing element in metropolitan life

Public transport – the missing element in metropolitan life

As a metropolis Dhaka has the dubious distinction of not having a coherent public transport or mass transit system. With a population of 12 million the city has to rely on every kind of ad hoc and improvised transportation. Examples of improvised modes of transport are the ‘tempo’ or ten-seat mechanised three wheeler, another variety named ‘human hauler, and on a fixed route in the old city even horse-drawn carriage is being used in a limited way to ferry passengers.

The rickshaw itself is a cumbersome vehicle, particularly unsuited for plying the long routes. And it is not uncommon to find three adults riding a rickshaw, adding ugliness to the existing chaos of the city traffic. There is no easy or express communication linking the new city with the river terminal in Sadarghat. Whatever public transport services exist they run north-south and there is no transport on east-west route after withdrawal of BRTC. There was a great possibility to develop suburban railway system for which the infrastructure had been bequeathed by the British government. Suburban railway could handle a major part of the city’s traffic load, as it does in Kolkata and Mumbai. But such projects, it appears, were farthest from the minds of the successive rulers. Suburban railway running at short intervals would of course necessitate laying of parallel tracks and construction of tunnels, and these were quite feasible if due attention were paid to them. If suburban railway could be developed then many people would prefer to keep their families in the suburban towns and the city’s population would be somewhat lessened. Instead, minibuses were brought into the streets to handle the main load of city traffic — an absurdity without parallel. In the mean time the BRTC which had all along been providing a modicum of transport service was allowed to decay. The BRTC’s double-decker buses had proved to be of great utilitarian value but these are no longer seen on the roads. Although new arterial roads were built like Bishwa Road and Rokeya Sarani, they failed to yield the desired benefit because overwhelmingly it was private cars and rickshaws that ran through them.

The present situation has not emerged in a day. Lack of pro-people commitment of the successive governments was amply reflected in the state of the city’s public transport. As buses have not been developed the people have become dependent on private cars and rickshaws. Hence the overcrowding and the tailback. In this context the call by experts and environmentalists for a pro-people communication system with emphasis on public transport, as reported in an agency report published in yesterday’s New Age is timely. These groups belonging to Paribesh Bachao Andolon are not the first to try to draw government’s attention to the need for a transport system that serves the common people. But the question is whether the government lulled by World Bank’s medication is wakeful at all.

The Daily New Age

Syed Saiful Alam
Central Member of Save the Environment Movement

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