Dhaka eyes transport reform with electric buses
Dhaka's nagging transport problems, largely caused by outdated, unfit buses plying the city roads defying traffic rules cause huge sufferings to the commuters and accidents killing hundreds of people every year.
The government has often said steps are being taken to reform the transport systems in this crammed city of 17 million people by pressing new modern buses into service. They indeed have introduced new passenger buses imported from India and China but they are few in number and of poor quality.
These buses become worn out only three-four years after hitting the roads, so the old buses having stronger metal bodies, though have mostly turned virtually into junks after many years of service, still rule the roads. These vehicles often operate without valid documents, fitness or trained drivers.
While the people of Dhaka had been desperately looking for some relief from hardships on the roads but finding no option as yet, China's Shanghai Technology has offered to provide a large fleet of 4,000 modern electric buses for Dhaka city with the view to ease growing traffic snarl and replace the old unfit ones.
The proposal came at a business meeting between the members of Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) and All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce (ACFIC) in Dhaka on Thursday, April 27.
Attending the meeting, ACFIC official Hua Lee said initially they will provide a few buses on experimental basis. If it works, a total of 4,000 buses will be provided "as a package."
[Dhaka eyes transport reform with electric buses] Media report quoted FBCCI president Abdul Matlub Ahmed as saying that the Chinese company has expressed their interest to open bus services with up-to-date facilities in a joint venture with Bangladesh.
He said Chinese companies also showed interest to invest in power generation, distribution, agro and food processing sectors in Bangladesh.
The offer to send buses, FBCCI officials said, if matures will open up a new horizon of friendship and cooperation between the two countries. When the "experimental" buses will arrive on Dhaka streets, however, is yet to be finalized, they said.
China has been a development partner of Bangladesh since the country achieved independence in 1971. So far China has built several friendship bridges over Bangladeshi rivers and the Bangladesh-China friendship conference centre in Dhaka. It also helped in many other smaller projects but the electric buses would be one of the major projects and enhance the business and development ties further, officials on both sides hope.
However, how efficiently the buses will run in Dhaka depends largely on the Bangladesh Road Transports Authority (BRTA) and the Traffic Police department since both have been responsible for Dhaka's poor transport systems.
BRTA provides running permits to decades-old, unfit and unlicensed vehicles including buses, lorries, human haulers and tempos that partly make up for the absence of adequate number of state-run buses but in the process make life hell of the passengers.
They cause frequent accidents as inexperienced drivers take control of the steering, compete madly to overtake others and also behave rudely with the travellers. They often charge higher fare and take excessive number of people onboard, sometimes leaving no space for breathing even.
If the fleet of Chinese electric buses starts operating in Dhaka it will ease the road snarl substantially and also give some comfort to the commuters. But, as we have said, much of it depends on proper traffic management. Like the BRTA officials and inspectors, many traffic officers are also corrupt and they regularly give in to pressure from transport "syndicates" comprising people from political parties and other influential groups, allowing the "junks" to stay on the roads.
It is difficult to get the specific number of buses and other transports operating in the Bangladesh capital but certainly they would be several times more than 4,000. So, managing all these vehicles need efficiency, honesty and sincerity of the concerned people. Dhaka's traffic signals also need to be modernized and upgraded to relieve vehicles from waiting long at one stop. Good buses are not just the answer to the city's nagging traffic problem. Coordinated effort to properly manage the transports is the most important part of it.
The capital city is now divided into two zones -- Dhaka North City and Dhaka South City Corporations. Headed by two Mayors, who belong to the ruling Awami League, the city has seen little development and improvement in existing structures and systems over the years.
DNCC Mayor Annisul Haque concentrates on cleaning roadside areas of illegal occupation to spruce up and expand the roads, which is an ongoing process. The DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon is following suit. But keeping the footpaths, alleys and avenues free has proved an uphill task, partly because of undue influence of politics and dishonesty of law enforcers.
Footpaths are usually occupied by small traders, hawkers and vendors selling all sorts of commodities. If they are cleared of illegal occupants in the morning they swarm back in the afternoon and reinstall their shops by the night. They do it by bribing the local political syndicate and the law enforcers, it is alleged.
Therefore, we would urge the city authorities to ensure free movement of commuters and proper running of buses and other vehicles instead of just counting on their numbers. Dhaka is already a megacity and still growing fast. Which we prioritise will decide the future of the city.
Anis Ahmed is Executive Editor, The Daily Observer