DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) – Three major streets in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, are off limits to rickshaws with experts saying the “hasty” move without any alternative arrangements is all set to put many commuters in trouble.
They opined rickshaws should not be plying the main thoroughfares, but also argued that the authorities should have implemented the decision taking more time and in a planned way.
The experts said without rickshaws, many, who do not have their own vehicles, would suffer while travelling some short distances, amid the absence of adequate number of public transport there.
At the same time, the number of cars and motorcycles might increase on the roads, worsening the traffic situation. The riskshaw pullers in those areas are also going to suffer as well, they added.
An organisation of rickshaw owners has already threatened to go for legal actions if the authorities ban the rickshaws today. It said rickshaws were given licences for the last time in the country in 1986, but the number of the three-wheeled passenger carts has increased many times since then, mainly in the absence of regulations and amid a dearth of public transport.
Currently, there are nearly four to five lakh illegal rickshaws in the capital having around two crore people. These rickshaws are often blamed for the city’s perennial traffic chaos.
On July 3, a special committee led by Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sayeed Khokon decided that the three streets would be made off limits to rickshaws. The decision was made to ease traffic congestion in the areas.
Those roads stretch from Kuril to Sayedabad via Rampura and Khilgaon; Gabtoli to Azimpur via Asad Gate; and Science Laboratory intersection to Shahbagh intersection.
The committee was formed at a meeting of Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority on June 19 seeking to remove illegal vehicles, including unauthorised rickshaws, battery-run rickshaws, auto-rickshaws and vans, from the streets and free the footpaths within two months.
The move came at a time when traffic congestion, according to the Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Buet, eats up around five million working hours every day in Dhaka and the average speed of vehicles during rush hours has come down to just 5kmph.
The congestion causes an annual loss of between Tk 20,000 crore and Tk 55,000 crore, the ARI said last year, citing findings of organisations working on the issue.
‘HASTY MOVE, PEOPLE TO SUFFER’
Talking to The Daily Star, many who use the three roads frequently said the decision to ban rickshaws on them would only add to their woes.
“I don’t know how will I go to my university if the rickshaws are not allowed [on the streets]. The distance is short and there is hardly any bus that takes me to my university,” said Mahin, who travels to his university in Bashundhara Residential Area by rickshaw from his home in Nadda.
Raisa Akther, who lives in Azimpur area, also takes a rickshaw to go to Dhaka City College to attend classes. She tries to ignore buses which often remain overcrowded and hard to board during rush hours.
“Sometimes, you know, it’s not easy to travel in public buses,” she said, adding that the authorities should keep a dedicated lane for rickshaws on every road.
The authorities had declared the street from Gabtoli to Russell Square in Dhanmondi and Russel Square to Azimpur as rickshaw free zones in 2002 and 2004 respectively.
Talking about the issue, transport expert Prof Shamsul Haque said unregulated operation of rickshaws on major roads causes congestion and brings down the speed of public transport. That is why the thoroughfares should be made off limits to the slow vehicle, he said.
“So the initiative [to free major roads of rickshaws] is good. But implementation of the decision is very difficult and complex. Such a plan should be implemented in phases taking more time,” he said.
Prof Shamsul, also a former director of the ARI, said implementation of the hasty decision would cause sufferings to the people who take rickshaws for short distances. “They will not find buses as an alternative means of transport,” he said.
He said the authorities should have followed an example of Kolkata which banned rickshaws on its main roads some 10 to 15 years ago.
Before implementing the ban, he said, the authorities in one hand raised awareness about the nuisances caused by rickshaws on the road and on the other, they ensured alterative ways of transport for the people.
During that time, the rickshaw pullers also got time to look for other means of livelihood, he said.
Maruf Rahman, a project officer of Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust, said the authorities took the decision without doing any research or taking past experience into consideration.
If rickshaws, a mode of transport meant for short trips, are banned, the number of cars will go up on the streets, he said referring to similar decisions in the past.
He termed vehicles like cars one of the major causes of traffic jam.
According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, the number of cars registered with it has declined in last one and half year. However, the number is still much higher than that of public transport like buses and minibuses.
Some 4,500 to 5,000 buses and minibuses are operating in the capital and its adjacent areas, according to transport operators, which many found insufficient to meet commuters’ demand.
“So the initiative [to ban rickshaws] would rather cause public suffering and intensify the congestion,” Maruf added.
He further said at a time when inclusive development is getting priority across the world, the authorities should have considered making rickshaws a part of an integrated multi-modal transport system for short trips.
Talking to this correspondent, Momin Ali, joint secretary of Dhaka City Corporation Rickshaw Malik Samity, a platform of rickshaw owners, said some four to five lakh rickshaws were running in the city illegally thanks to the owners’ political clout and that the authorities did not take any action against them.
“Now the authorities are going to impose wholesale ban on rickshaw [on three roads], which is not acceptable,” he said, adding that only rickshaws were not responsible for traffic jam.
Momin said they would write to Sayeed Khokon requesting him not to put restrictions on rickshaws unless there would be separate lanes for them on the roads.
“If the authorities do not pay heed to our plea, we will go to the High Court,” he told The Daily Star.
WHAT AUTHORITIES SAY?
Contacted, Khandakar Rakibur Rahman, member secretary of the 12-member special committee, said they would not take any drastic decision. All illegal vehicles would be removed from roads gradually, he said.
“We are going to implement the decision for the greater interest. So people have to suffer a little for that greater interest,” Rakibur, also Executive Director of DTCA, told the newspaper yesterday.
On implementing the decision within such a short period, he said, “The government did not take any action [in this regard] for a long time. Will not the government go for any action?”
Meanwhile, Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Atiqul Islam yesterday requested all to endure some sufferings for the greater interest of the country.
Speaking at a meeting at his office, he said it was not possible to remove all the rickshaws within a day or two.
Saying that it would take two months to implement the decision in case of Pragati Sarani, the mayor assured that alternative means of transport would be ensured on the road.