Although the country witnessed a significant urban growth in the last few decades, there was an absence of proper transport planning and institutions in the urban transport sector, causing indiscipline and mismanagement there, experts and activists said yesterday.
They stressed that there has to be a political commitment to end anarchy in the sector, a demand which came to the fore especially after several people died or suffered grave injuries in accidents recently.
The speakers were participating in a roundtable organised to press political parties to incorporate plans in their electoral manifestos for bringing discipline in transport sector and resolving traffic congestion and implementing those.
The organisers, Road Safety Foundation and Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Buet, had invited 16 political parties, but eight of the parties, including the Awami League, BNP, Jatiya Party and CPB, did not take part in the discussion, held at an auditorium of the university.
Representatives of eight other parties present there promised to add road safety issues to their electoral manifestos.
The urban transport sector “informally” evolved without strong political and financial support from local or government levels, said Prof Moazzem Hossain, director of ARI.
The lack of an institutional umbrella resulted in poor or no planning, regulation, operation management or effective enforcement framework, he added.
Prof Moazzem also pointed out that traffic jam and mismanagement in the sector make a huge impact on the country's economy and public health.
Traffic congestion in Dhaka city eats up around 5 million working hours every day and the average speed of vehicles during rush hours has come down to 5kmph, he said, citing an ARI study.
The congestion causes an annual loss of between Tk 20,000 crore and Tk 55,000 crore, he said, citing findings of organisations working on the issue.
“However, about 50 to 70 percent of the losses can be avoided through proper actions,” he said, adding that nine categories of human behaviour are affected by transportation.
He said several bodies including city corporations, Rajuk, Road and Highway Department (RHD), Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and Dhaka Transport Coordinator Authority (DTCA) are working in this sector without any coordination.
In the absence of a single authority to look after the city's transport sector, everyone avoids responsibility, he said.
Citing examples from different megacities, including London and Mumbai, Prof Moazzem said there should be a single institution to take all the responsibilities relating to transport under a specific law.
The institution will be headed by a specific person, may be mayor or the transport minister, and it will be a public sector with the government providing subsidies if required, he said.
Nowhere in the world, the public transport is run by business-minded private sector like in our country, he said, adding, “Urban public transport can't be pure business; it is an emergency public service sector.”
To adopt necessary changes in the sector, including enactment of law, political commitment is a must, he said.
Colonel Md Mahbubur Rahman, director (technical) of Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC), said they represent only 0.1 percent in the transport sector with around 1000 buses and 150 trucks.
Nirapad Sarak Chai Andolon Chairman Ilyas Kanchan said he has been requesting politicians for the last 24 years to do something to solve the problems.
“Nothing will be on the right track unless politicians are on the right track,” said the actor-turned-road-safety-campaigner, adding, “Politicians require awareness, they require training.”
Zonayed Saki, chief coordinator of Ganosamhati Andolon, said it is unjust to hold only drivers responsible for road accidents; it is the system which should be blamed.
“Blaming drivers is an attempt to hide numerous government failures in this sector,” he said, adding that a vested group from the ruling quarters is involved in the sector, so they do not want to solve these problems.
Nagorik Oikya Convener Mahmudur Rahman Manna said no representatives from the ruling Awami League and BNP came to the meeting. “If leaders from major political parties don't take responsibilities, road accidents won't stop.”
Political parties have to realise that they have responsibility for each and every road mishap. “We can't even clear footpath but we are boasting that we have won ocean, space. We have to change this mentality.”
Krishak Shramik Janata League President Abdul Kader Siddique said the society and politics should be corrected first, then the transport sector.
Referring to frequent road accidents, he said, “Situation has become so horrible that nobody is sure whether he or she will reach home safely.”
Gonoforum leader Subrata Chowdhury criticised Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan for his actions and remarks concerning the sector.
“On one hand, he [Shajahan] is heading a ministry and on the other leading the drivers,” said Subrata, also a senior Supreme Court lawyer.
He added, “People involved in the transport sector are so powerful that citizens become hostage to them.”
Representatives from Bangladesh Workers Party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD), Oikya NAP and Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh spoke at the roundtable, chaired by Road Safety Foundation Chairman Prof AI Mahbub Uddin Ahmed and moderated by senior journalist Mizanur Rahman.