Syed Saad Andaleeb
congestion in Dhaka now represents a problem of enormous proportions.
Various factors account for the traffic conundrum. The complex
and heterogeneous traffic pool dominated by non-motorised
vehicles creates serious road network capacity restrictions,
leading to unbearable congestion. The situation is further
exacerbated by a growing population, an inadequate and poorly
maintained road network, encroachment of the sidewalks, poor
parking facilities, bad infrastructure planning, horrendous
traffic management and lack of enforcement of traffic rules.
Add to this the fact that Dhaka is the only major magnet that
attracts people seeking sustenance from all over the country.
to continue, the traffic mess is likely to overwhelm the city
with gridlock and throw people's lives into even greater disarray.
It is important, therefore, to prioritise what needs to be
done for immediate relief while longs term prospects of using
underground space (subways) or the space above ground (monorails)
should be explored for technical and financial feasibility.
traffic is a major impediment to the smooth flow of total
traffic in the city and needs to be phased out for immediate
relief. These vehicles are slow, present virtually everywhere,
cause severe gridlock, particularly in the city's intersections,
contribute to loss of work hours, expose the entire travelling
population to health hazards from vehicular emissions, and
introduce uncertainties of being on time to work, meetings,
school, and other scheduled activities. The opportunity cost
of sustaining the non-motorised vehicles is rather exorbitant
if one imputes the cost of time, adverse health effects, cost
of wasted gasoline, and other negative externalities they
cause via traffic jams. Also, there is no other major city
in the world that relies today on "human power"
to transport people and goods. In fact, the very existence
of non-motorised vehicles powered by a straining mass of suffering
people is a sad reflection of how much we undervalue human
beings, often to the point of equating them with draft animals.
non-motorised traffic situation as a colossal representation
of human misery that exhorts us to look closely at their lives
(especially that of the rickshaw pullers). The physical toll
and the level of denigration these people endure while "pulling"
others and their belongings reflects a level of callousness
of the city's population that is striking. People seem to
be least bothered in their casual acceptance of the physical
struggles of the rickshaw pullers and related others who seem
fated to endure the extreme wear and tear on their bodies.
Indeed their lives may be brutish and short. At another level
it also reflects the failure of the successive governments
to find alternatives for those who provide such disproportionate
amounts of physical labour relative to their counterparts
in other countries while eking out a living on the margins
of survival and in subhuman conditions.
to the physical challenges, the pullers and pushers in the
non-motorised sector are exposed throughout the day to harmful
rays of the sun, acid rain, toxic emissions from motorised
vehicles that contain suspended particulate matters (SPM),
carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and air borne
lead, lung-afflicting dust particles, and the extreme heat
and fluctuating cold … not to mention the verbal abuse
and monetary exploitation from passengers and the corrupt
traffic officials that is their added daily reward. What a
life! And for all this toil, what hope do they have for a
better future? Very little.
gain to be realised from phasing out non-motorised vehicles
is in the capacity of the city's road network that is severely
constrained today. For example, roughly two rickshaw lengths
are equivalent to the length of a minibus while three rickshaw
lengths take up the same space as a full-sized bus. But the
difference in their passenger carrying capacities both in
time and space are vastly different: more people can be moved
between stations, and faster, using public buses. Clearly,
phasing out non-motorised transportation from the streets
and replacing the lost capacity by buses would contribute
to far better road capacity utilisation.
however, will not be easy as there are many entrenched quarters.
In addition to affecting the livelihoods of the rickshaw pullers,
it will also affect parts suppliers, mechanics, rickshaw owners
who rent out these vehicles and the corrupt officials who
prey on this helpless group. These constituencies are likely
to work against the phasing out of non-motorised vehicles
unless an all-inclusive strategy is carefully devised. Moreover
an upwardly mobile social class may have serious reservations
about using public buses. Nevertheless, the non-motorised
vehicles need to be phased out if congestion and its adverse
effects are to be dealt with.
way to do so would be to enforce license requirements, which
according to the estimates, would reduce roughly 80 percent
of the rickshaws from the streets. But expecting corrupt officials
to play their role may be a bit of a fantasy. Removal of rickshaws
by decree or force portends resistance that may easily escalate
into violence and widespread destruction of property. Perhaps
the best option is to induce behavioural change in their "customers,"
encouraging them to shift from rickshaws to buses as a cheap
and convenient means of transportation.
or phasing out non-motorised vehicles certainly means having
to deal with the lives of the displaced rickshaw pullers and
related others and rehabilitating them. A significant amount
of funds will be necessary for this purpose to train them
in other skills, absorb them into the motorised transportation
sector, employ them in road maintenance work, or to provide
them with other alternatives.
city dwellers want better and faster transportation services,
they must be willing to bear part of the costs of congestion
removal. Modernisation comes with a price! In fact the enhanced
efficiencies from time saved may more than compensate for
the increased ticket prices. Also, given the sheer volume
of people likely to use bus services, the price increase ought
to be marginal, although some simulations may be needed in
this area. If this surcharge can be collected in a special
account, the work of rehabilitating the displaced workers
from the non-motorised sector can begin almost immediately.
of high taxes on private motor vehicles is to introduce a
"large disincentive" for additional private cars
to take up the space freed up by the non-motorised vehicles.
Otherwise, Dhaka runs the risk of facing similar problems
as in Taipei, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and other cities burgeoning
with private vehicles. In this regard, I call attention to
the alarming growth of car dealerships in the city and urge
policy makers to evaluate their contribution to the rising
congestion. This growth suggests that car owners are able
to pay hefty prices for the variety of cars in the market.
Thus they should also be able to pay high taxes that could
be used effectively to take non-motorised vehicles off the
streets and create alternative employment opportunities for
of the present level of congestion and its associated costs,
fewer people are willing to take time to shop around. As the
congestion is eased, more people would be able and willing
to transact business. From the financial gains, a congestion
removal fee may be imposed on businesses to help the displaced
workers to get up on their feet. Many businesses also have
irresponsibly built edifices on the city's streets without
making allowance for parking. For them, an "irresponsibility
tax" ought to be levied to help build multi-storied parking
lots in the crunch areas.
segment of street users ought to be charged fees for the use
of certain streets. Some of these streets are in very high
demand at certain times and should be accessible only to those
who need to use them most. In other words, the class of street
users who use streets "unproductively" must be dissuaded
from doing so by imposing a "congestion fee" on
them. Such users may include people who are visiting friends
or shopping malls, hopping places for fun, running low-priority
errands, etc., during peak hours. Exempt from these fees should
be public transportation modes, office vehicles, school buses,
suppliers of essential products, hospital visitors, etc. One
might look at the case of London: After years of gridlock,
cars entering Central London are now charged five pounds.
While critics predicted dire consequences, many now acknowledge
that the gains were much greater. Today electronic devices
are also available to deduct charges automatically from vehicles.
Unauthorised vehicles using certain streets at given times
may be charged "multiple" times for causing congestion.
the above fees and surcharges suggested can be justified on
the basis of greater efficiencies that will be attained by
removing the non-motorised vehicles from the streets (via
decreased loss of time, better fuel efficiencies of vehicles,
better health, more business transactions, etc.). Also, someone
has to pay to bring about improvements; they do not magically
happen. Importantly, the charges are to be used to help rehabilitate
a group of people who, today, live in truly subhuman conditions.
may also have to participate in congestion removal by allocating
funds to buy out rickshaws and offer loans to rickshaw owners.
Arrangement may also have be made to undertake major construction
projects (highways, bridges, educational institutions, hospitals,
etc.) in areas far away from Dhaka where the displaced workers
are absorbed on a priority basis, preferably closer to their
home districts. Such undertakings would also ease the population
pressures from Dhaka's streets as people move to where there
is work. The idea is to invest in building other "magnets"
for work opportunities. Once new infrastructure is in place,
it may be possible to move out the RMG sector from the city
that many see as a partial cause of congestion.
comfortable buses -- and many more of them -- ought to be
introduced in the city to induce the demand shift. Coupled
with better training in traffic management and enforcement,
restrictions on further construction in designated areas,
and introduction of multi-tiered parking lots, it is possible
to beat the horrible traffic mess one endures today and build
a modern city.
proposed here are intentionally kept at a general level to
encourage further debate and discussion so that an appropriate
mix of more specific strategies evolve from it. The government
must also boldly pursue chosen strategies instead of being
cowed by the fear that key voter segments would turn against
them. Keeping everyone happy is an ephemeral concept; instead,
the adoption of bold measures that challenge the status quo
may actually garner surprising levels of support from unanticipated
quarters. The question that now remains is whether the government
has the courage, vision, persuasiveness, willingness, and
ability to drive much needed change to bring relief to the
city's harassed commuters.
Saad Andaleeb is Professor and Program Chair, Marketing, The
Black School of Business, Penn State University and Editor
of the Journal of Bangladesh Studies.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005