Vol. 5 Num 67 Mon. August 02, 2004  
Star City

Dilemma delays plan for fresh ban on rickshaws

The Dhaka Transport Coordination Board (DTCB) is in a dilemma over its decision to free rickshaws from two major city roads due to diametrical pressure from the government and the World Bank (WB).

The latest deadline to ban rickshaws from the roads in question is August 15, which has been fixed over an Agreed Aid Memoir with the WB. But it has been extended by two days to August 17 due to the current floods. This happens to be the fifth time that the deadline had to be shifted. The fresh deadline has been sent to the mayor for approval.

The stretches of roads to become off-limits to rickshaws were Kalabagan crossing to Azimpur via Newmarket and Science Laboratory to College Road (next to Bangabazar) via Shahbagh and National Press Club. Originally, the roads were supposed to become rickshaw-free in December 2003.

Senior officials in the Dhaka Urban Transport Project (DUTP) DTCB's implementing agency said that the plan has become a political issue which has thrown it into uncertainty. Both the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) and the communication ministry have objected to implementation of the rickshaw-ban as the government fears the step could make it unpopular and create a negative impact in the national elections scheduled for 2006.

In the wake of situation, the communications minister at a meeting on July 29 called for cabinet approval to enforce the ban, sources said.

DTCB's executive director Quamrul Islam Siddique however, told the Star City that the plan to ban rickshaws has become stalled because of the flood.

"If we try to implement the plan now, it will bring inconvenience for the people," said Siddique.

Mayor Sadeque Hossain Khoka recently told reporters that the plan would be delayed as many poor rickshaw-pullers will become unemployed, which will be inhuman under the present circumstances.

The DTCB has plans to make three more major thoroughfares rickshaw-free next year. These are Progati Sarani to Mouchak, Bangla Motor to Mouchak and Rokeya Sarani to Farmgate. Earlier, the stretch of Mirpur Road connecting Gabtali to Russel Square had been made off-limits to rickshaws on December 20 last year.

A World Bank team reviewed the DUTP project in July and expressed dissatisfaction at the limited progress of the rickshaw-ban programme along with other plans. The team reportedly put pressure on the authorities to make the roads earmarked for the ban free of rickshaws on time.

Sources said that following the WB's observation, the chief executive officer of DCC on July 26, sent a letter to the DTCB asking it to take initial preparations including arrangement of sufficient public transports, awareness campaign etc.

"This is just an eyewash from the government side and a bid to avoid their liabilities. Ultimately the World Bank will blame the DTCB as the plan will not be implemented on time," a senior official of the DTCB said.

The DTCB had spent around seven lakh Taka on the rickshaw-ban campaign to meet an earlier deadline on February 26. However, it is alleged that the plan had to be set back following instructions from a top government office Officials fear that this time too it will be a case of fund misuse.

Rickshaws have become a major headache for city planners. The Dhaka Integrated Transport Study (DITS), a government survey funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), found that rickshaw fare is almost double in comparison to bus fare for the same distance. But some 19.2 percent passengers use rickshaws as their favourite mode of transportation while only 9.5 percent travel by buses.

According to the records of the Wheel tax Department of DCC, there are nearly 89,000 licensed rickshaws and vans plying in Dhaka. But the Mayor has admitted that unofficial numbers are nearly four lakhs. The illegal rickshaws are believed to be the prime cause for constant traffic jams and violation of traffic rules.

The police began a drive to seize unlicensed rickshaws from the capital last year. Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP)'s estimates show that around 10,000 rickshaws were taken in from September 2003 to June this year.

A stretch of road from Science Laboratory to Azimpur yesterday. PHOTO: STAR