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Commuting in Dhaka city and its changing phases

A few years ago commuting in Dhaka City was extremely difficult. Going somewhere in and around the city was always a hectic job. Those who had family cars were considered the luckiest. However, life was tougher for those who had to rely on public transportation every day. The only few options that were available were the rickshaws for short distances and local buses or gate-locked buses for longer journeys. For the people who could manage a little more luxury, the only option was a baby-taxi or mishuk.

Things have changed quite a bit lately in the transport sector. It seems to be heading towards a brighter direction for commuters. People who had few choices can now choose their mode of transportation from quite a larger number of options. There are now city services in almost all the routes either provided by BRTC or by some other public bus service. Nowadays, people waiting in queues for a bus with tickets in their hands is a common sight.

One such person, waiting at Shahbag to get on a Volvo is Sazia Haque. "I remember those days when I had to wait for local buses for hours to get home. I am really glad that those days are over," says enthusiastic Sazia. Sazia will be going to Mirpur#10 through the Farmgate-Rokeya Shawroni route starting from Motijheel. The last stoppage of the Volvo service is Pollobi. Mirpur is one place that benefited from city services a little later than other areas.

There are now three bus companies, which have ticket systems. Apart from Volvo on the Mirpur # 10 route, there is a BRTC City service on the Mirpur # 1 route, starting from Pollobi via Asadgate, Farmgate to Motijheel and Metrolink in Mirpur-Ajimpur route via Asadgate. The bus fare at Metrolink is Tk 6 for any stoppage. Whereas it is Tk 10 for the BRTC City service and the Volvo service. Compared to the fares of local buses the charge is a little high for these services but passengers really appreciate the efforts. According to Sazia, "elbowing and waiting, these incidents still take place but the quarrels with helpers are gone and I feel more comfortable even if I am standing inside the Volvo Double Decker."
Like Sazia not everyone can say that the days of misery are over. People going to Mohakhali from Mirpur are still ill fated. Nazmun Nahar, a Senior Research Officer of ICDDR,B who usually travels in a minibus provided by her institution, explains "if I miss the office bus I am in a lot of trouble. There are no decent services in the Mirpur-Mohakhali route". During office hours, people simply fight to get a CNG scooter. There is only a 'tempo' (mini coaster) service called Leguna that goes to Mohakhali from Mirpur#1 but getting a seat in the morning is almost impossible.

However, if one lives in Uttara things are comparatively smooth. A great number of bus services ply in this route both AC and non-AC. Compared to other routes seats are more easily available for the people taking Uttara bound buses. Among the AC buses, there are Premium, Nirapad and among the non-AC buses there are Metrolink and BRTC Volvo services both going all the way to Tongi. All these services follow the Mohakhali-Farmgate-Motijheel route. The highest fare in these services is of course for Uttara/Tongi to Motijheel, which will not be more than Tk 15. On the AC buses, the fare will be at most Tk 25. "Obviously, the expense is a lot less than taxicabs and a lot more than local buses but I take these buses very often" says Mizan. Mizan is a third year student of DU who travels in these services. Although the university authority provides students with transportation, yet he prefers these local services mainly because going home in an overcrowded university bus is very exhausting.

For the people of Mohammadpur there are now four buses that go to Motijheel. These include Rajdhani Express taking the Shamoli-Asadgate-Kalabagan route. ATCL has two services from Mohammadpur. One goes to Motijheel following the Asadgate route and the other goes all the way to Sayedabad and Rayerbagh, also following the Asadgate-Farmgate route. City bus and Mega City bus go to Motijheel through Jigatola. The bus fare for Rayerbag is Tk 14, while on the other hand Motijheel bound buses take Tk 10.

On the Moghbazar-Mohakhali-Motijheel route, several buses are plying. Dhaka Poribahan goes to Gazipur. The fare would be Tk 25. Monjil Paribahan goes to Savar EPZ from Motijheel through Tongi. To EPZ, the fare would be Tk 25. Himalay Paribahan goes to Tongi from Narayanganj covering the large area of Motijheel, Magbazar, Mohakhali, and all the other important points to Tongi Bridge.

Among other buses, there is a BRTC City service from Balughat (cantonment) via Shahbag to Gulistan. The bus fare is Tk 15. Sapla goes to Kamalapur from Gulshan # 2 through Farmgate-Mohakhali.

There are also some buses called city link buses. One can now go all the way to Savar EPZ from Motijheel without changing route or bus, following the Gabtoli-Asadgate-Farmgate route. The fare in this BRTC service is Tk 25. Then there is Premium AC bus service, a favourite among the Jahangirnagar University (JU) students. It is a get-away from crammed university buses for them.

Not just for the JU students, the city services are also a get-away for many from the suffocating local buses, elbowing, running, jumping and swinging like bats. It is also a get-away from the misconduct of the drivers and helpers. Drivers and helpers of local buses often misbehave with passengers. Very frequently, they refuse to allow female commuters to board. They let male passengers occupy all the Mahila Seats. For physically challenged people, it is impossible to get on a city bus. The system is completely unfit for them as buses hurry along to grab more passengers all the time. Most of the times the bus employees do not let them ride. Senior citizens take a little time to get in and get down. Local buses do not let them in either. Even if they do, it is often seen that they are treated with misconduct. These situations have now eased a little. "Compared to my prior experience on local buses, city services are more comfortable," says Anwar Hossain a retired bank employee. Hopefully, things are going to get more comfortable as BRTC officials are planning to bring in 100 more Volvo double-deckers to join the current fleet.

Things that still need to be changed
The brief presentation about the recently introduced city service that we have just given you does not mean that incidents of jumping onto running buses and swinging like school children do not take place at all. They still do and you may often find yourself performing such acts. It also does not mean that Dhaka City has become a paradise for commuters all of a sudden. We also cannot say that the current services are enough for a metropolis like ours. A great many dilemmas still exist in the transportation sector, which hamper commuters' movement and cause discomfort.

Lack of proper bus stoppages is one of them. All the bus services pick their boarders from the streets. They halt for a few minutes blocking other vehicles', which creates traffic congestion. As there are no other options, all the queues are formed on the sidewalk and standing on the sidewalk is not always pleasant. It hampers movement of the pedestrians. Sometimes buses get delayed during traffic jams and during such periods, the queue grows and there is not always enough room for everyone. City services provide few sheds for their customers as protection from the sun or rain, and most of them can only accommodate only a fraction of the customers. Many of the structures provided by the city for waiting bus passengers are taken over by small unauthorized shops, normally comprising of roadside vendors. There are always emissions from the vehicles passing by, which cause further discomfort for the passengers. Rubbish peeps out of the drainage system beside the sidewalk. They provide more elements like horrible odours to the already disturbing environment for the awaiting people. The person who sells the ticket sits inside a small tin box all day with all that elements that we just described, which is obviously distressing and unhygienic.

Seat arrangements are sometimes weird especially in gate-locked services, which are still preferred by some people as they pull over wherever one wants them to. The seats beside the driver are most painful. It is extremely hot because those seats are situated above the bus engine. Once you are in you cannot get out as they manage to cram 10 to 12 persons into a space suitable for only 6 passengers. This often gives birth to altercations between the bus employees and the passengers. In gate-locked buses, there are more seats than the usual numbers approved by the government. The authorities are aware of the fact but they still remain silent on the subject.

Our drivers are not trained enough. They break the traffic rules very often. Rough driving inside the city often leads to unwanted accidents. Frequent lane changes are one important reason for traffic jams. Most of the time drivers become very impatient. They try to utilise every inch of the road possible, frequently bumping into other vehicles. Getting a driving license from Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) without proper driving efficiency is a piece of cake. Dalals run the system of licensing and the BRTA officials receive their share from this scam.

Malik Samity sometimes creates pressure that actually obstructs the possibility of a better system for the people. Several city services were introduced on the Mirpur#10-Motijheel route before. Because of the tension motivated by the owners of local buses, these services stopped plying. They assign their own set of rules not always comfortable for commuters. They maintain a strong lobby with government officials about getting route permits and authorization on the fitness of the vehicle. The high level of corruption is holding back the build up of a modernized transportation sector.

It is also the same scenario in the case of renovation of streets, sidewalks or bus stops, which is greatly needed. However most of the time who gets the tender becomes the most important issue. The person with more lobbies gets the work of course whether competent or not. This gives birth to clashes and sometimes even the slaying of rivals.

The introduction of taxicab and CNG auto rickshaws was like a breeze on a hot summer for many. Travelling with the whole family became easier for the people who had no family vehicle. Introduction of the meter system in auto rickshaws was also welcomed. However, soon it all changed. Drivers often decline to run on meters. They charge more money than the meter's reading. According to one CNG driver, "We have to wait hours in the gas station to get CNG. It is a loss for us." Which is why a large number of auto rickshaws are now plying with octane. Some drivers claim that "the per day amount fixed by the government is Tk 300 but Malik takes Tk 500. So we manage the money from the passengers." Cab drivers often do not comply with the passenger's wish. Sometimes at night drivers demand return fare if they are asked to go to areas like Mirpur or Old Dhaka. Incidents like snatching of valuables from passengers by cab drivers also worries many.

City services are a huge comfort for the middle class but people with lower incomes are still unfortunate. They still prefer local buses, as all the city services cost more than local buses. We now have different systems for the people of different class backgrounds. Bus fares should be reduced so that everyone can afford the luxury and comfort.

Traffic jam is the worst among all the problems. Some of the streets are always congested and need to be regulated by specially trained traffic police. There are some streets, which should be avoided during specific hours of the day. The street in front of the Shishu Park is usually stagnant during the office-going hour. Taking the street from Sheraton hotel to Kakrail mosque, then crossing Motshovaban might be of some comfort. From 11 a.m. in the morning till noon, the New Market area moves at a very slow pace, as there are no parking spaces and shoppers park their cars in a disorderedly manner. Some of the streets inside Dhanmondi are impossible to pass through around noon because several schools are situated there and the cars that go to collect children block the streets. From Kakoli to Mohakhali then again around Mogbazar there is always a tremendous jam. This situation is worsening and needs to be addressed very soon, even though construction is still going on.

It is clear by now that these are not yet happy days for the people of Dhaka City. One thing for sure is that the transportation system is going through some changes, and some of these are positive. It is evident that a lot more still needs to be done. This includes renovation of streets, more and more buses especially double-deckers are needed; more bus routes for the people travelling short distances. Decent bus stands, regulation on malik shamity, regulation on traffic sergeants and traffic police about how to conduct themselves with commuters, training for drivers must be addressed immediately. As for us commuters, we create problems too. We need to be a little more sensible as well to help evolve the current changing phases into a modernized system.

By Shahnaz Parveen

 


 
 

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