Transport system for Dhaka city
I was very excited when I heard about a Metro network in Dhaka. However, my enthusiasm has been somewhat dampened since reading the article on the front page of the Daily Star of January 8. Although a total cost of Tk 6200 crore was mentioned, and an outline plan of the metro network was published, I could not find any other relevant information about the project. I could not be sure whether a detailed feasibility study was carried out prior to making an estimation of the total cost. A feasibility study must include initial land and traffic survey, survey of the traveling public and major business locations, soil test, and also a list of existing public and private transport routes.
I had the opportunity to attend the recent presentation by Dr. Mahbubar Rahman for Bapa at Dhaka Press Club, and read news articles by various reporters. I also read comments by a few Dhaka city residents, mainly by Md. Ashraf Hossain and recently by Tawfique Ali (Jan. 18), in the Daily Star.
Having worked for the London Underground for the last 41 years I thought it would be wrong of me not to given my views of the subject.
From my experience I can confidently say that without incorporating the views of various technical experts and the traveling pubic, analysis of the existing traffic and transports, and addressing environmental issues, a new public transport system cannot be sustainable.
I welcome the presentation by Dr. Mahbubul Bari with regard to environment and the Dhaka city transport system. I fully agree with his comments that banning fuel free transports such as rickshaws from Dhaka city is not the solution to the problem of city transport, and the policy to give private cars priority over more fuel-efficient vehicles is wrong. However, I cannot agree that only rickshaws can carry more passengers than the London Underground. London city was built long before the underground railway system came in place. The world's first underground railway was built in London to relieve traffic congestion. It has never been a policy in London to replace one form of transport with another without creating an alternative. As the roads in London are quite narrow and lots of historical and heavily constructed buildings exist, and since there is no viable possibility to widen the existing roads, the decision was made to construct underground railways.
However, London still has its problem of traffic congestion, even though congestion charge has now been introduced for private vehicles entering the city boundary between 7:30am and 6:30pm. The average speed of a road vehicle in London city is 10-15 mph at present. Traveling time from the border of the city to the inner city has increased tremendously during the last 10-15 years, but that does not mean that the driver of a vehicle can jump traffic signals or drive on the wrong side of the road just to be faster than other drivers. Although more buses have been introduced on London roads they cannot move as easily as taxis, commercial vehicles, or cars. Hence, bus lanes have been introduced wherever possible.
I welcome the views of Mr. Tawfique Ali, published on January 16 in The Daily Star. He quoted comments by various individuals, including those of Communications Secretary Dr. Md. Mahbubur Rahman. Dr. Rahman stated that a 12 member committee of experts has decided in favour of Dhaka Metro Project on priority basis, even before a feasibility study has been carried out. The question is, when will a feasibility study be carried out, and how much money out of the total cost of $5.2 billion has been allocated for this study? My question to the transport planning and financial authority is, why not solicit views and comments from relevant experts, the traveling public, prominent businessmen and others before taking a final decision?
I agree with Mr Ashraf Hossain's statement (published in the Daily Star) that an easy, fast and affordable transport system is vital for Bangladesh. However, I cannot agree that introducing more rickshaws and auto-rickshaws along with more taxis and private cars will relieve traffic congestion and solve public transport problems in Dhaka.
After assessing comments in the newspapers and views outlined in the recent Bapa seminar, my comments are as follows:
-Relying totally on road transport will be disastrous for a highly populated city like Dhaka. Alternative public transport systems, such as Underground Metro and Tramways or Light Railways, should be considered provided infrastructure is suitable and adequate space and funding are available.
-Integrated, diverse transport systems must be considered. Building Metro by sacrificing rickshaws, bicycles and footpaths will not solve traffic problems. The existing provision for non-motorised vehicles such as bicycles and rickshaws must be improved while introducing other forms of transports. Improvements should be made for non-motorised vehicles for easy accessibility to inner roads.
-Without making adequate provisions, it will never be possible to give priority to non-motorised vehciles. Traffic congestion will increase if more and more motorised vehicles share the same lane of a main road with non-motorised vehicles.
-Business Report in The Daily Star on January 13 stated: "It is difficult for Bangladesh to make room for non-motorised vehicles since the country does not have enough space." This statement confirms that it is necessary to introduce other forms of environ-friendly public transport systems such as Mass Transit, which can carry lot of passengers at a time and also can reduce the burden on roads. However, this cannot be as a replacement of other form of transports such as bicycles, rickshaws, buses and scooters. It is also necessary not to allow goods vehicles on city roads as through traffic wherever possible. Diversions should be created for this type of traffic, along with the introduction of more and more rail and river transports.
-It is essential to make improvements to richshaws so that they become more user-friendly to all types of passengers, such as the elderly, females, children and the disabled, and they should also be easily maneuverable by rickshaw-pullers. Separate provision for rickshaws will always be useful.
-We must look at Mass Transit systems in other highly populated cities in the world where infrastructures are very similar to ours.
-More attention should be given to public transport than to the transport for VIPs (Very Important Persons). It is very sad to hear that responsible people in our country call a major road VIP road.
-Public Transport should be subsidised so that the general public can afford to travel. Public transports in all major cities of developed countries are subsidised by the government (means public money).
-Footpaths should be created wherever possible, and re-instated on the roads, even if it means demolishing illegal constructions and other forms of obstructions (including access to and from roadside buildings), which encroach onto footpaths. Private transport should be restricted on the main roads during office/business hours (say between 7am and 5:30pm), particularly if it carries less than four people.
-Separate lanes should be provided for non-motorised vehicles on main roads. Slow moving vehicles such as scooters and motor cycles should not use the same lane as higher speed vehicles such as cars/microbuses and trucks/lorries on major roads. Bus anes should be introduced on bus routes within the city.
-Approval of $5.2 billion scheme by Strategic Transport Plan (STP) should be given a very careful thought.
-A major project such as underground Metro might need to overcome lot of constraints and, therefore, the project might get delayed and costs may rise. Construction companies (including overseas consortiums) will definitely claim compensation for every item that is not specified in the contract.
In conclusion, I am all for additional forms of public transport, such as underground Metro and/or light railway/tramways, which are capable of carrying a lot of passengers at a time and are also environment-friendly. Emphasis must be placed on public transport rather than private ones. Transport rules of all major developed cities should be adopted. All rickshaw-pullers, bicycle-riders and motor cycle riders must be fully trained along with scooter/taxi, car and bus/truck/lorry drivers, and they must obey traffic rules including pedestrian crossings. International traffic signaling systems should be followed.
Enforcing traffic rules/laws is more important than written or hidden laws, which are always ignored in Bangladesh.