Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wheels of Dhaka

By Jawad Mahmud
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

Modern transport is almost entirely dependent on wheels. We have vehicles with wheels ranging from four to one (the last one for the circus guys). In the great city of Dhaka people use rickshaws, buses, taxis, CNG auto-rickshaws, maxis (pickup like things), riders (again some weird hybrid) etc to go from one place to another. Other than the one-wheeler, all of us have tried out most of the other 'wheelers'; since we have expounded on rickshaws prolific, let's concentrate on the other modes of transport:

Taxi cabs:
The elite mode of transport in Dhaka consists of cabs. In the city they are only seen either whooshing away with passengers or whooshing away without any passengers… we think they might be suffering from extended Whooshing Syndrome. Even if you do manage to attract a cab the driver will refuse to go, or ask for an outrageous fare or demand thirty taka more than that shown in the meter. By some lucky coincidence if you manage to get into one, there are still risks of losing the way, being dropped off before your destination or worse still, getting mugged by 'molom' parties. This poses a threat for the teenagers because we usually don't carry a lot of money, which means the muggers may get angry with you for wasting their time. And in such cases fighting for your dear mobile set is a big no-no. One hopes you don't fall in such situations. Another suggestion: NEVER get into a taxi if the driver accepts to go to your destination without any grumbling or extra charge; that's the proof of the driver being linked with a 'party'.

There are three types of cabs here- yellow, black and blue. Yellow cabs are supposed to be air-conditioned and they have higher rates per kilometre. But if you are lucky enough to get into one, you are most likely to find no AC. If you ask about it, the driver will say either it is broken or there is no gas. But this doesn't stop them from demanding extra fare. Black and blue taxicabs are even worse. Though they are supposed to charge a lot less than the yellow ones, they do the opposite without any feeling of guilt.

It seems that the general requirements a taxi has to attain to be eligible for moving in the city are: ashtrays overflowing, upholstery ripped, the springs coming out and chewing-gums stuck under, windows filthy and the floor covered with papers, leaflets, polythene bags, glass shreds, visiting cards, packets, coke-cans and what not.

CNG Auto-rickshaws:
Or CNG as more commonly called. These drivers will be the first ones to go to heaven among the drivers of all kind because when they drive, people cannot but pray to the Almighty and ask for forgiveness… You've all seen some major level swishing through traffic in movies; well these dudes manage to do that every time they get a fare. They are the masters at seeing the atomic gaps between two cars and squeezing through them. There are only about 50 CNGs in the whole city of Dhaka, which run on the meters. If you find one, you will know there is something wrong with the driver, either he's gone mad or he has something else on his mind. The most generous CNG drivers will ask for only ten taka more than the meter reading.

Talking about the CNG drivers, have you noticed their attitudes? You call them and they look away from you with an indifferent look. When they ask for an outrageous fare and you offer them 30 taka less, they will look at you in a way worthy of a king. Bow before them while you still have time. You give them directions and they will utter only one word “Jani!” and you will have no reason but to shut up.

Some CNG drivers are also linked with parties like molom, moricha and oggan. Process of recognizing them is the same as above, especially at nights. Good luck!

'Mishuk', another three- wheeler:
These are the first four-stoke auto-rickshaws in the country. The distinctive features are skinny bike wheels, green bodies and a wobbly general outlook. They go at slightly faster pace than a rickshaw and less than a CNG. Other typical trait is the scribing at the back “ami choto, amake marben na” meaning- I am small, don't hit me… The hell we won't, after you charge those extra fares… Usually, the mishuks have a competition going where they try and act out daredevil stunts between two speeding buses. We think they might be trying to get Evel Knievel to notice them in daredevil heaven.

Voice of the Drivers:
Though I said plenty of bad things about the drivers before, we need to mull over their state too. Let's first take the CNG drivers. They are not the owners of the vehicle, they only loan them from the owners. In return they have to pay a specific amount every day. The amount is usually 500. But think about how much a cabbie earns a day. He roughly earns about 700 a day if he goes by the meter. Then he has to pay for food. There are parking charges and not to mention extortion here and there. We have to count the amount of time spent in the traffic jams too. As for the cabs, the maintenance cost is high. I have heard from one taxi driver that he has to pay for the fuel as well. This makes it twice as bad. Out of desperation many join hands with muggers.

Wheels were invented mainly to give the transportation a boost. And them someone went and made fancy spinners and hubcaps for them. That probably explains all these problems.



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