Two years after the countrywide road safety movement that had made us hopeful about a better-managed transport sector and improved road safety, it is worrying that nothing much has really changed in this sector. In July-August 2018, thousands of students across the country took to the street after two students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College were killed due to a mad race between two buses on July 29. They sought justice for the killing and demanded safe roads for all. They pointed out the mismanagement in the transport sector and the loopholes in laws that need to be corrected. Subsequently, the government passed the Road Transport Act 2018, the Prime Minister's Office issued a 17-point directive, and a task force was formed to curb road crashes. All these steps, however, did little to bring discipline in the transport sector.
Although the Road Transport Act was made effective in November last year, it could not be implemented efficiently due to the opposition by transport associations, which called strikes several times to put pressure on the government to cancel some sections of the act that penalise the drivers for road accidents. The government had to relax some of the rules amid pressure from them. It is also unfortunate that the task force led by Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, formed in October last year, held only one meeting until now.
Meanwhile, roads have remained as dangerous as ever before. Unfit vehicles still rule our roads and the number of unlicensed and underage drivers is still very high. More buses have been given route permits and the number of motorcycles is also increasing in an unregulated way. The number of road crashes and fatalities increased last year compared to the previous year. And the rising trend of road crashes remained almost the same until late March, when the government suspended operations of public transport to contain the spread of Covid-19.
In order to bring discipline in the transport sector, the government should make all-out efforts to implement the Road Transport Act. It should not bow down to the pressure created by the transport owners and workers to turn the law to their advantage. Any decision to reform the law must be taken through discussion with all parties concerned. In addition, the task force formulated last year should start its work without further delay. Besides, the prime minister's 17-point directive which included ordering buses to pick up and drop off passengers only at designated spots and to keep the doors of running buses shut at all times, keeping photos of drivers and helpers along with their names, drivers' licences and phone numbers at two noticeable places inside the vehicles, etc.—must be implemented. Moreover, steps need to be taken for bus routes rationalisation and introduction of a bus franchise system in Dhaka city to streamline the public transport system. What this means in broader terms is that we need to reform the entire transport sector in order to bring discipline on our roads.