Dhaka Wednesday March 24, 2010


The picture on the top is not a transport vehicle from museum or film shooting location about some criminals on the run.

It is from the streets of Dhaka where it is used, everyday, round the clock, to transport commuters of whose lives there is obviously no concern. Such vehicles, along with drivers with fake licences, and without any training on road safety rules have made the roads of Bangladesh among the most unsafe in the world.

In this special four page cover issue we highlight the miserable plight of the commuters through some dramatic photographs and accompanying stories.

We urge the authorities to:

1. Remove all dilapidated vehicles from the street immediately. (Provide bank loans to owners to get new vehicles if necessary)

2. Remove all fake licences and introduce computer based licensing system.

3. Punish fake licence issuing gangs along with police officials who are involved.

4. Provide road safety training to all drivers of all classes of vehicles.

5. Test eyesight of all drivers. It has been found that many are night blind, short-sighted and colour blind, including many who need glasses but have never had their eyes tested.


Vehicles of death

Run-down, menacingly-poised, unfit vehicles unleash a reign of terror on Dhaka roads right under law enforcers' nose

Star Report

AT least one person gets killed and many more are maimed every day in the capital city in traffic accidents.

According to police, 98 percent of the accidents happen due to reckless or careless driving. The main culprits are usually the minibuses, buses and other vehicles of public transport.

According to Accident Monitoring Cell of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority and Dhaka Metropolitan Police, 377 people died in 620 accidents in Dhaka metropolitan area in 2008. Of them, 283 were pedestrians. Another 79 walkers were seriously injured.

In 2007, the total number of accidents in the city was 696 that caused deaths to 451 people. Among them, 336 were pedestrians. At least 108 people were also seriously injured.

About 60 percent of all road users in the city are pedestrians.

According to World Bank research, road accidents in Bangladesh cost the country about Tk 5,000 crore annually, nearly one percent of the GDP.

In 2009, the BRTA Accident Monitoring Cell recorded 3,381 road accidents across the country that caused 2,958 deaths and 2,223 serious injuries. In 2008, the number of accidents was 4,427 with 3,765 deaths and 2,720 grievous injuries.

According to National Institute of Traumatology, Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation (NITOR), about one fifth of the injury-related admissions in Bangladesh hospitals are due to traffic accidents. About 15 percent disabilities are caused by these accidents.

According to a 2008 Accident Research Centre survey of Buet, there are 54 accident-prone spots in Dhaka city. It identified Jatrabari intersection as the most dangerous intersection in the capital.

Farmgate, Kakoli, Bijoy Sarani, Shanir Akhra intersection, Shapla Chattar in Motijheel and Purana Paltan intersection are also dangerous places.

The number of fatalities is just the tip of the iceberg. In the name of rendering transport services, all modes of public transport of the city are enjoying a free rein where they generally do not abide by the traffic laws and where they just get away with murders, as the law enforcers remain mysteriously silent about them.

Instead of the traffic police, public transport vehicles, often not road-worthy, control the traffic movement pattern in the capital.

The Daily Star brought out this special jacket to pinpoint various dimensions of traffic traumas caused by unfit vehicles and reckless driving.

Hour of horror

Shahnaz Parveen

Hamidur Rahman's heart almost leapt out of his ribcage in fright when he finally landed on his knees in the middle of the street.

His feeling of sheer terror and high blood pressure was the result of an hour-long bus ride from Mirpur section 10 to Farmgate during office rush hour in the capital.

Apparently the bus helper pushed him off in the middle of the busy road as another bus whizzed passed him.

Hamidur is a newcomer to Dhaka and described his journey in terms of it being a nightmare.

He said, “The bus itself looked like a ramshackle metal monster with thousands of dents and scratches.

"There was barely enough room inside to breathe and yet I felt triumphant as I looked at the hundreds of others left waiting by the road.”

Hamidur said his jaw dropped when he noticed a scrawny figure sitting behind the wheel.

With hardly the trace of a moustache, it seemed that the driver was still in his early teens and was more interested in his cell phone than the traffic.

Hamidur was abruptly pushed into the space behind the driver's seat as the helper stuffed yet more passengers inside.

No taillights, no rear indicators, reverse lights and even no rear windscreen--a typical human haulier of Dhaka, with bumps, scrapes and dents all over. Photo: Anisur Rahman

The driver barked instructions at his helper to fill up whatever empty space was left.

Apparently there was enough room for a few more passengers on the steps.

Hamidur said the front windshield was shattered and barely held itself together with the help of white tape.

A wing mirror was fastened with rope, whilst the other was missing, along with several windowpanes.

In the middle of the bus lay the contents of someone's last partially digested meal.

Hamidur went on to describe the rest of the interior, saying that the upholstery of the seats, thick with accumulated filth, emitted the stench of dead rats.

On one side of the wall was a sign saying, “Our aim is to serve our customers."

Hamidur found the interior offensive to the eye and he felt the slogan could only be interpreted as a mockery towards passengers.

Hamidur managed to maintain his composure despite the grim setting -- that is until the driver pushed down on the accelerator once the bus was full to bursting.

Passengers swung from side to side like bats in the trees.

Standing right behind the driver's seat, Hamidur watched every reckless attempt the driver made to overtake other vehicles on the way to Kazipara.

He made every twist and turn as he changed lanes in Sheorapara.

Even the slightest push on the brake pad made the bus screech like a monster and the relentless honking told other drivers in no uncertain terms, "Get out of my way -- or else".

“I felt my blood pressure rising as I saw several pedestrians and rickshaws narrowly escaping death while the driver kept chatting on his cell phone.

"He chatted all the way to Agargaon.

"Then a person with a sizeable belly squashed me and another passenger, just as someone announced he lost his wallet,” Hamidur added.

Two "gentleman" began pointing at one another, both claiming that the other was a pickpocket.

The scuffle continued all the way to Farmgate and eventually it caused the driver to give up on his mobile phone call.

Hamidur said he got off the bus feeling like a hostage released.

Before all the passengers had time to disembark at Farmgate, the bus started speeding towards Karwan Bazar.

It competed with other buses in a desperate rush to secure more passengers.

Hamidur pleaded to be let off the bus but for a while no one listened to him.

Eventually the nightmare ride ended and Hamidur landed knee-first onto a busy street after being pushed off by the helper.

He sustained bruises and one of his sandals remained trapped on the bus.

Yet Hamidur felt fortunate to be in one piece and ended his bus ride with a quick visit to the pharmacy for a packet of Band-Aids.

For many others, however, the circumstances are deadlier -- they are the type that make their way into newspaper headlines.

Buses could not care less

Drivers break traffic laws at will, pick and drop passengers anywhere they want

Sharier Khan

Two minibuses give an auto-rickshaw the squeeze, not caring for the damage to the vehicles, the CNG-run three-wheeler or possible injury to the people inside it. Photo: Anisur Rahman

Probably nowhere else in the world bus drivers enjoy such unbridled freedom to pick up and drop off passengers, as they do in Bangladesh -- especially in Dhaka city.

Amid total apathy of the police, the buses do not just pick up passengers while still moving -- they even cause their passengers to literally drop dead on the streets on occasions that are becoming more frequent by the day.

For example, on January 24 while getting off a bus at the GPO crossing in the city, a banker of Pubali Bank named Syed Shafiqul Ahmed fell from the running board and died on the spot as the vehicle suddenly started moving without giving him a chance to get off safely.

In December last year, in a similar incident on Airport Road near Nikunja, an African national wanting to get off a bus was pushed out through the door by the bus helper while it was still moving. That person also died on the spot.

These are no rare incidents. Everyday quite a few people are being injured -- some seriously and some not so seriously -- while getting off buses. Bus drivers do not bring their vehicles to a complete stop at designated bus stops, and when they get back into traffic, they usually swerve in suddenly, risking the lives of passengers as well as pushing passing vehicles into risks of accidents.

The most common scenario in the city is that a bus would invariably slow down and pick up or drop off passengers at busy intersections right in front of traffic police. The bus drivers do so even while crossing intersections, not only worsening nagging traffic jams, but also causing buses to hit each other, occasionally leaving people injured.

Another common scenario is that a bus would stop right in the middle of a road blocking the way for the rest of vehicles around it, till it has finished picking up and dropping off passengers.

Any passer-by may stop a bus having a space even for half a person, anywhere in the city. For such illegal stops, the bus drivers usually swerve suddenly to the left towards the curb, triggering equally sudden surge of blood pressure in drivers behind them.

The city buses accept passengers' requests to drop them off anywhere. For instance, buses regularly stop opposite the BGMEA building on Tongi Diversion Road where traffic jam is a regular feature.

The bus drivers have also created an "evening stop" near some garment factories on Airport Road just past Mohakhali flyover towards Uttara. They also make casual stops on the ramps of the flyover.

There are a dozen such examples of bus drivers regularly doing whatever they feel like to maximise earnings.

The free reigning bus drivers also invent their own shortcuts by going out of their permitted routes. They invade narrower roads of residential areas and blow their cacophonous horns whenever they feel like. The menace already has affected residential areas like Gulshan, Dhanmondi, Uttara, Khilgaon and many others.

Last week, when demonstrating garment factory workers in Tongi put up a road block stopping traffic flow on Dhaka-Mymensingh highway, all public transports poured onto the alleys of Uttara residential area for shortcuts. The whole area remained clogged till 4:00pm since morning.

As the police are quite blasé about the invasion of buses, residents of Gulshan and Khilgaon installed height restrictive gates at some entry points of the areas.

That has reduced the flow of buses taking shortcuts through those neighbourhoods, but the problem has not yet been addressed properly by the authorities concerned.

Danger men driving
Equipped with fake licences, labourers show up in Mohammadpur bus terminal for driving bus or minibus everyday

Morshed Ali Khan

Each morning around 50 young men wait at a dusty tea stall at Mohammadpur's bus terminal. They hang around in the hope that a bus owner's representative will call to offer them work. There are 40 local buses, also known as mini-buses, which travel on Route-13 between Mohammadpur and Dhupkhola. If a driver is lucky enough to find work, a day's wage is around Tk 250.

Visibly malnourished and street-hardened, these bus drivers do not have valid driver's licences. Yet bus owners trust them with their vehicles because they are practised hands -- they first joined the trade as young boys. The owners have no doubt that they can endure the heat, dust and constant wrangling with passengers, road users and law enforcers.

Most bus drivers work 18 hour shifts and will freely admit that extreme fatigue often takes over and disrupts their judgment. After years of hardship, older drivers frequently develop problems with their sight, along with various other illnesses. Drug addiction is very common amongst bus drivers.

When Sarwar, 34, came to Dhaka from Dohar with his mother he was six years old. His mother found a part-time job as a maid in Katasur but Sarwar grew up without any formal education. He worked as an assistant at the local garage before being promoted to become a bus helper. At the tender age of 15 he became a bus driver.

He said, "At first I tried to get a driver's licence from the BRTA office in Mirpur but they asked for Tk 10,000 which I could not afford." A fake licence cost him just Tk 300.

Abdul Majid is the organising secretary of the road transport workers association in Mohammadpur. He said local bus drivers are extremely poor, and that they feel powerless and frustrated by the vicious cycle of poverty. He said these feelings often lead to drug addiction.

Majid said, "These drivers have been driving buses since they were very young, but none have driving qualifications.

"Bus owners show no interest in helping their drivers obtain a valid driver's licence."

"The government should provide formal training for a week and then issue genuine licences," he added.

At the Dhaka Zoo bus terminal in Mirpur, local bus drivers have nearly identical stories. Rafiq, 26, drives the route between Dhaka Zoo and Syedabad and he complained that he and his co-workers are the victims of an unfair system.

Rafiq said, "We work in the toughest possible conditions and yet we are treated like day labourers."

The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) has given permission to approximately 7,400 buses to operate in the city -- around 3,000 buses ply "local" routes. Bus owners are often small businessmen or even government officers. Each owner pays a fee to a bus owners association to run their bus on a particular route. The association receives route permits from BRTA.

Drivers allege that owners fail to carry out maintenance work on their buses. Most local buses are old, dilapidated and have no fitness certificate. Their worn-out interiors and dented exteriors tell a sorry tale. At Mohammadpur and Dhaka Zoo bus stations, this correspondent checked the tyres of a dozen buses and found that all were worn out with barely any tread.

Zakaria Jalal Sohel, president of the Dhupkhola Bus Owners' Association, said that the rising costs of spare parts and persistent daily traffic jams have seriously affected their business.

He said, "We cannot conduct maintenance work because our earnings have dropped drastically. Our timetable for a single trip to Dhupkhola is one hour and twenty minutes but it can easily take up to three hours."

BRTA officials said that they are going to increase the number of mobile courts to clamp down on fake licences.

The chairman of BRTA, Md Ehsanul Hoque, said, "If we fine drivers for having a fake licence they will be forced to obtain valid ones."

A top police official from the traffic division, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the number of fake licences has significantly increased due to corruption at the BRTA office.

The official said, "City bus drivers have been driving with fake licences for years.

“We need to offer them opportunities for training and free driver's licences."

Buses scrape each other as they race between intersections to get to their "stops" first and pick up more passengers. A human haulier that has no dashboard instruments being driven on streets. Photo: Shawkat Jamil

50pc of city buses unfit

Shahnaz Parveen

Import of poor quality buses, use of locally made spare parts and random tampering with vehicle mechanisms contribute to the increasing number of run-down and unfit vehicles on the city streets, transport sector leaders said.

The large number of ramshackle vehicles in the capital is also attributed to the manual methods and inadequate technology of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) in carrying out fitness tests and reluctance of police officials to impound unfit buses.

Reckless driving by untrained drivers is contributing no less to the rising number of worn-out vehicles as such driving results in frequent accidents causing serious damage to the vehicles; incidents of minor damage are an everyday affair, they said.

Consequently, dilapidated buses and minibuses continue to crowd the streets of the capital, posing serious risk of accidents for commuters and pedestrians.

Currently there are about 7,367 buses and minibuses operating on 157 routes in and around the capital city. About 50 percent of them have not had any fitness certificate for a long time, according to top BRTA officials.

Ali Reza, president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Union said, “Every day a bus makes about 12 to 14 round trips in the city. Most of the imported buses are not fit for such long trips due to our rough roads and the weather.”

He added, “The spare parts used in the buses are also locally made and of poor quality. Suitable spare parts are not imported as per demand and that is why there is always a crisis of spare parts.”

He also said bus owners always tamper vehicles with local technology to draw maximum benefit. The vehicle is operated even after the expiry of its economic life through overhauling and changes of their exterior and interior.

In August 2008 and in 2002 the government slapped a ban on 20-year-old buses in the capital city that had never been implemented for non-cooperation from the owners. It was also planned to send old vehicles to other districts across the country.

Md Abul Hashem Dewan, general secretary of Dhaka Road Transport Owners Association, said, “Most of the buses are mortgaged to the local banks and owners are reluctant to send it out of Dhaka as they earn more in the capital.”

He said, “BRTA doesn't examine drivers for driving licence regularly. That doesn't mean licence is not issued. One can obtain it without even going there. This is why an auto rickshaw driver can easily switch to a heavy vehicle without any qualifications.”

Acknowledging the fact that owners are equally reluctant to go for fitness test he said, “It is not that difficult for owners to reach a compromise with the police and BRTA officials to continue the business without a fitness certificate.”

Some owners, however, said the main flaw lies with the procedure of issuing fitness certificate, which is usually done manually. BRTA lacks automated vehicle inspection system.

According to section 47 of Bangladesh Motor Vehicle Rules-1984, BRTA inspectors are authorised to check complete mechanism of a vehicle, which includes functions of 83 points.

Most important of them are checking smoke emission, power transmission from engine, operation of brake, lighting, wheel alignment, steering, mirrors and the condition of chassis.

A top official from BRTA, on condition of anonymity, said, “It is impossible for BRTA to check 83 points of a vehicle manually as there are only 10 motor vehicle inspectors in Dhaka city. So only the most important areas or sometimes only the exterior is checked overlooking the others.”

“Besides, the BRTA has only two magistrates to carry out mobile court operation. During the drives owners take unfit buses off the road and they return to the streets right after the drive is over.

“With more magistrates the drives could have been more frequent,” he added.

The official, however, said the responsibility of enforcing laws lies with the police department.

However, Shafiqur Rahman, joint commissioner for traffic, Dhaka Metropolitan Police, denied the allegation and said that regular drive is going on.

“When unfit buses are caught the owners sign an undertaking saying that they will send the vehicles out of Dhaka but after refurbishing the exterior they bring those back on the streets as usual. Police department is not responsible for checking fitness,” he said.

He added, “We had to suspend the drive for some time as we did not have dumping ground but now we have managed a place at Agargaon and the drive is going on regularly.”

He mentioned that trainings are also going on twice a month for drivers at different bus terminals of the city to increase awareness.

Maximum Punishment
3yrs jail just not enough

Ashutosh Sarkar

The punishment in road accident cases must be increased from the existing highest term of just three years' imprisonment in order to prevent accidents, said the attorney general and Supreme Court Bar Association president.

The Law Commission chairman, however, differed with this opinion, saying the licensing authority has to be strengthened to check rash and negligent driving.

While talking to The Daily Star recently, none of the three legal experts could instantly remember if anybody was recently punished at the High Court in any road accident related case.

Almost all road accident cases are disposed at trial courts and most of the accused get bail from the lower courts, they said.

But there have been some cases in which the accused have been tried and punished by the High Court, they said.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam and SCBA President AFM Mesbahuddin believe that the existing highest penal code punishment of three years' imprisonment in a road accident case is not enough.

Mahbubey Alam said drivers drive recklessly as they know the highest punishment for any charge regarding road accident is a very short jail term.

Advocate Mesbahuddin said a rule should be made for life imprisonment for killing by rash and negligent driving.

The government of HM Ershad amended the law in 1985 to set three years' imprisonment as the highest punishment for killing in road accidents. Before that the highest punishment was a seven-year jail term.

Law Commission Chairman Justice MA Rashid said rash and negligent driving causing loss of life can be checked through only strengthening the licensing authority. “Police must ensure that drivers have proper licence," he said.

One death destroys many lives

Rizanuzzaman Laskar

The morning of February 4, 2010 started off much like any other for Sonia Sheikh.

She woke at 7:00am, nudged her son Hamim awake, and began preparing his school tiffin.

She watched her son with amusement as he left his bed and walked towards where his father lay, then snuggled in beside him for a last-minute catnap.

Sonia dressed her groggy-eyed and bed-headed son for school as he dozed on his father's chest.

Four hours later she was staring at her only son as he lay motionless on the asphalt.

"His class finished at 11:00am, and the accident happened at 11:10am,”

Sonia recalled.

"I was crossing the street with Hamim when a bus hit us from behind."

Everything happened in a heartbeat -- there was a loud roar and a screech and Sonia was suddenly hurled onto the asphalt.

"I didn't know whether or not I was hurt, nor did I care.

“The only thing I could think of was whether my Hamim was okay," said Sonia Sheikh.

He was not.

"I saw Hamim lying there; not moving. His brain was coming out of his skull."

Sonia cannot recall anything after that moment.

Two days later, a rickshaw puller from Nakhalpara called Monjur Sarkar, overheard the news of Hamim's death while at a tea stall.

But his mind was too occupied with thoughts of whether his seven-year-old daughter would be admitted to a school to dwell on it for long.

On that day, Monjur's life was devastated by the loss of his daughter, Sumi.

His wife and 14-month-old son were left with critical injuries following a road accident.

"I did not even see my daughter's grave because Dhaka Medical College Hospital were desperately trying to arrange a CT scan for my son and my wife," Monjur told the Daily Star.

Sumi's mother Hasina Begum later tried to recall the incident.

She said, "She [Sumi] was walking hand-in-hand with me.

“When all of a sudden she tried to dash across the street, I ran after her.

“Then the bus came along.

“I cannot remember anything more.”

Hamim's mother Sonia Sheikh read the news of Sumi's death in a newspaper.

"Only a mother can comprehend what it feels like to lose a child," said Sonia.

Since Hamim's death, she has counted 11 other people who have died in road accidents.

Sonia said, "These drivers should be hung.

“Only then will other drivers wake up and start being more careful in the streets.

“Otherwise these incidents will keep recurring."

Hamim's father Motaleb Sheikh shares similar notions.

"The law states that drivers guilty of causing road accidents should go to jail.

“These people must receive tough punishments for others to take notice," said Hamim's father Motaleb Sheikh.

The popular actor and president of Nirapad Sarak Chai, Ilias Kanchan, said that punishing drivers will not bring about much change unless a comprehensive initiative is taken to promote road safety.

"We need to change the existing law,” he said.

“The law should make people use overpasses and zebra crossings for their own safety.

“And the offender who is responsible for the accident must be punished," he said.

“Children must get the 'look right, look left, then right again' message drilled into them from an early age,” he said.

"We have been urging the government to teach road safety in schools from class two to class nine for years.

“Such a simple campaign could save so many young lives.”

Ilias Kanchan has dedicated his life to spreading awareness about traffic and safety rules.

He knows only too well the devastating affects of road accidents.

His wife died in a car accident in 1993.

"I know what a curse road traffic accidents are," said Ilias Kanchan.

"It devastates families and it ruins lives."

"I urge the families of accident victims to start promoting awareness of road safety so that no mother loses her child in a road accident," he said.

"People need to understand that a few minutes of patience can save lives."

According to estimates, around nine people die everyday in road accidents across Bangladesh.

Sources at the National Institute of Trauma and Orthopaedics at Pongu Hospital in Dhaka said that it admits as many as 900 patients a day, and that up to a third of those are victims of road accidents.

Safety drive must begin from BRTA

Tawfique Ali

Driving out battered vehicles along with illegal drivers and removing corrupt elements from the transport authority and traffic police department are a must to ensure safety of the commuters, say experts and researchers.

They recommend installing physical barriers to deter pedestrians from crossing busy roads and development of planned footbridges and an organised pedestrian crossing system.

The experts and researchers were talking on short- and long-term measures to minimise causality on streets accidents following recent deaths of two children within three days.

The safety issue has to begin with the licensing procedure of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), said noted civil engineer and transport expert Prof Jamilur Reza Chowdhury.

"Any shady deal among unscrupulous bus operators, traffic police and BRTA must be stopped to ensure public safety on the roads. If the government is committed, it should make arrangements to man the BRTA with honest and efficient officials," Chowdhury added.

On average, 380 people die in the capital every year in accidents, and buses, particularly minibuses, are responsible for that.

Of the casualties, 75 percent are pedestrians, said Prof Md Shamsul Hoque, director of Accident Research Institute, Buet.

"The level of people's exposure to hazardous situation has to be reduced immediately with adequate and planned foot over bridges, underpasses and organised pedestrian crossing with traffic signals," said Hoque.

Continuous median barrier should be built on the major thoroughfares to prevent pedestrians from chaotic road crossing, as general propensity of the pedestrians is to flout traffic rules, he continued.

He said public education, awareness building and control and proper enforcement of traffic rules are also a must.

Although battered buses are supposed to be detected during annual fitness inspection and random inspection, it is not understandable how those vehicles keep plying the streets, he observed.

Services of vehicle fitness inspection should be outsourced, as there are only 12 vehicle inspectors at BRTA for Dhaka city.

Hoque added primary and secondary schools are not supposed to be set up on the main roads and at intersection. Schools must be community-based within a zoning system. It is a worldwide practice to have Lollypop Traffic Warden to control road safety of the students of those schools that are situated on busy avenue during school and break-up hours.

Readymade garments workers, rickshaw pullers and other low-income labourers mostly live in Kamrangirchar, Lalbagh, Badda, Santarkul and Beraid on the city's west and east fringes.

On the other hand, city roads stretch in the north-south direction.

Movement of most of the 20 lakh RMG workers on foot is directly conflicting with the motor vehicles, said Hoque.

There are 3,000 RMG factories in the city that generate a huge number of pedestrians.

Long-term solution to hazards of transport service seekers is to develop a planned public transport system with Bus Rapid Transit, he said.

Another long-term solution is to allow just one bus operator in a particular route because several operators in one route indulge in hazardous competition for making money with as many trips as possible.

Dr M Rahmatullah, former director (transport) of UN-ESCAP, said rundown vehicles and illegal drivers are two foremost reasons behind tragic fatalities on the city streets.

"Unauthorised drivers, their employers and owners of rundown vehicles must be brought to exemplary punishment. We have never seen any single perpetrator brought to justice for taking human life with street accidents."

"It is not understandable how such old vehicles ply the streets in presence of BRTA and traffic police," he said.

The situation will never improve with the corrupt cartel active in the transport sector, he added.

The government should make arrangements for renewal of all the existing driving licences with a deadline to check their authenticity and bring the drivers to test and issue licences only to those who qualify.

Jaywalking goes beyond control

Tawfique Ali

Pedestrians jaywalk on Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue at Farmgate, stopping traffic on the busy street even though there are two footbridges there (just outside the frame). Photo: Shafiqul Alam

Thousands of pedestrians in Dhaka jaywalk every day, particularly during rush hours, risking their lives and the lives of motorists and sometimes with fatal consequences.

Jaywalking has reached such an alarming state that fatalities are recorded almost every day.

Pedestrians are often seen crossing the streets at places they are not supposed to while talking to each other or on mobile phones oblivious to things around them. Some seem to be unaware of the doctrine "Don't run across the road".

Jaywalking is so widespread that it has become almost a norm and motorists are often blamed for mishaps despite the fact that the pedestrian he or she hit was jaywalking.

The fast Airport Road from Uttara to Mohakhali, Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue, Shaheed Tajuddin Sarani (Tejgaon), and Mirpur Road are the ones where most fatal accidents to pedestrians happen.

Largely, people's tendency to flout traffic rules and lack of adequate facilities for pedestrians, illegal occupation of pavements by parked cars, shops, vendors and construction materials contribute to pedestrians use of the streets, said traffic experts.

A journalist died at Bangla Motor intersection while crossing Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue in 2005.
Dhaka University student Shammee Akhter Happy was run over by a speeding bus while crossing the Shahbagh intersection in 2005.

Sultana Akhtar Sumi, a 20-year student of Narayanganj Art College, died on April 3, 2009, as she stepped on a livewire and fell from the under-construction footbridge near Shishu Park.
According to Accident Research Institute at Buet, 380 deaths occur on the streets of Dhaka every year, and 75 percent are pedestrians.

"Lack of enforcement of law to free pedestrians' facilities is the foremost reason why people go on jaywalking," said M Rahmatullah, former director (transport) of United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

Absence of useful underpasses, footbridges and pavements force people into jaywalking, said Rahmatullah.

On controlling jaywalking, Selim Md Jahangir, deputy commissioner (traffic west zone) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said it is practically impossible for the police to stop jaywalking because it is a massive problem with almost everyone having a tendency to break traffic laws.

The volume of pedestrians compared to that of vehicles at certain places is many times higher and police have to control traffic, he said.

Dhaka City Corporation, entrusted with providing facilities to pedestrians, has been turning a blind eye to pavements occupied by illegal structures, parked cars, makeshift shops and construction materials.

The DCC has only 390 kilometres of pavements while it has 1,900 kilometres of roads, said DCC officials.

Most of the 52 footbridges in the city remain unused for various reasons. The DCC has four underpasses: one each at Gulistan intersection, Gabtoli bus terminal, Syedabad (Dhalpur) and Karwan Bazar. Apart from the one at Syedabad, the rest are in a poor state.
Nargis Chowdhury, a bank employee at Karwan Bazar and a resident of West Raza Bazar, said, "I never feel encouraged to use the Karwan Bazar underpass as it is often dark and infested with beggars, vagabonds and is very filthy."
Prof Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, noted civil engineer and transport expert, said a key reason behind jaywalking is that most of the city dwellers are rural people who migrated or are first-generation urban dwellers.

Another reason is utterly unplanned footbridges that the pedestrians do not feel encouraged to use. Footbridges are not in a favourable state for the pedestrians to use. Some of them have been taken over by vendors, beggars and vagabonds, like the one at New Market, or they have human excreta on them.

"They are not user-friendly," he said. Provision for on-the-surface pedestrian crossings should also be there too.

People's tendency is not to climb up a footbridge. Moreover, there are no required footbridges across many busy roads like Shaheed Tajuddin Sarani (Tejgaon), Gulshan Avenue, and at intersections like Shahbagh, Nabisco, and Mohakhali.

Existing traffic signals are not pedestrian-friendly at all, according to those who research in the transport sector. Physically disabled, elderly people and children have no alternative but to use the footbridges.

According Prof Nazrul Islam, an urban researcher, around half the city dwellers go to work on foot. Around 90 to 95 percent of the poor and people of the low-income group go to work on foot.

Roughly, one crore people live in the DCC area of around 150 square kilometres.

Prof Jubayer-bin-Alam of Civil Engineering Department of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) in a study on Sustainable Transport for Urban Poor found 12 of 20 lakh garment workers go to work on foot in the central part of the city.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the communications ministry, earlier admitted that many footbridges have been built without any proper planning.

Old Bangers
Rule The Streets

FROM TOP LEFT… A bus with its dashboard tied in place with wires. A rope is used in a human haulier to keep a broken passenger-door from flying open while on the move. With a smashed front windscreen, no headlights on its left and a few body panels missing, this bus continues to ply the city streets. An aged three-wheeler still runs in the city. The tattered seats of a human haulier. Even the law enforcement agencies use unfit vehicles with evidence of major accidents.