When the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority introduced what is popularly known as digital number plate in 2012, it made promises of gaining the ability to track vehicles that have been stolen or used in criminal activities.
For the mandatory plates and radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags, motorcycle or three-wheeler owners have since been paying Tk 2,260 and four-wheeler owners Tk 4,628.
In the last four years alone, the BRTA raked in Tk 560 crore for providing 16.12 lakh plates and tags, according to BRTA documents.
But vehicle owners have hardly ever enjoyed the benefits because there are only 12 check posts to read the tags and all of them are in Dhaka.
The BTRA also does not engage anyone to monitor the system round the clock.
“They took our money in the name of service. I have never heard anyone getting the service,” said Ahmed Rafi, whose uncle’s motorcycle was stolen a few months ago.
Many owners do not even know about the system.
Masuk Rana, a private employee, said he filed a case with Mirpur Police Station after his motorcycle got stolen from his home in Mirpur-2 in October last year. Whenever he contacted the police, they told him to wait.
He said he was not aware of the RFID feature until the correspondent told him about it. “Does it work at all?” he asked.
Besides, no system has been developed in over seven years for coordination between the BRTA and Anti-vehicle Theft Team of Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
Law enforcers sometimes gather information using traditional methods that are time-consuming and make tracking of vehicles very difficult, officials said.
Prof Shamsul Haque, former director of the Accident Research Institute at Buet, said forcing people to pay and not giving them the service was an injustice.
The BRTA should have increased the number of RFID reading facilities and employed dedicated manpower to provide the services to people, he said.
Apparently to rid itself of about 5 lakh plates and tags that are waiting to be installed, the BRTA earlier this month asked motorists to take the plates and RFID tags by January or face legal action.
Contacted, BRTA Chairman Kamrul Ahsan admitted that people were not getting the service they had expected.
A plan to set up more check posts on different highways didn’t see the light of day due to fund shortage, he said.
“We are now trying to revive the plan and will start looking for donors,” he told The Daily Star.
WHAT WAS THE PROJECT FOR?
The BRTA on October 31, 2012, introduced the retroreflective plates with RFID tags to check tax evasion, carjacking, and use of vehicles in criminal activities, a BRTA official said.
The Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory (BMTF) got the contract for preparing and maintaining the plates and tags for 15 years. The BRTA pays Tk 1,805 to BMTF for each plate for bikes or three-wheelers and Tk 3,652 for four-wheelers.
For the first five years, the BRTA paid around Tk 560 crore to BMTF and, for the next five years, it is expected to pay another Tk 600 crore, which is subject to change, depending on the volume of plates and tags supplied.
When a vehicle passes through an RFID reader, the latter can retrieve its registration information, fitness certificate status, and tax owed, if any.
The plates are readable from about 40 feet away even at night. Tag reading devices can read the tags from 11 metres away and tell which way the vehicle is going.
The tag-reading stations send the data to the BRTA database. The police or the vehicle owners can obtain information from there.
Between February and September last year, 260 vehicle theft cases were filed with different police stations in the capital.
Police arrested 189 suspects and recovered 432 vehicles during this time, according to the DMP website.
But, the BRTA last year received only about 10 to 12 requests from owners for information on their stolen vehicles. Nearly half of the requests were made by people whose vehicles got stolen when they were outside Dhaka, an official said, adding that they could not help those owners.
A top officer of the Anti-Vehicle Theft Team said he had been in the team for the last few months and had never felt the need to seek BRTA’s help.
“I would have known if the system was effective … We recovered many vehicles in the last few months but had not taken their help,” he said, seeking anonymity.
Two BRTA officials said they had identified 94 places on different highways to install the readers. But the plans had not been implemented partly due to the massive cost of the project.
“Until better coordination among the BRTA, Roads and Highways Department and Highway Police is achieved, the project will not see the light of day,” an official said, wishing anonymity.