To solve the transportation problem of Dhaka metropolitan area

In order to solve the transportation problem of Dhaka City, the Strategic Transport Plan (STP) for Dhaka City was initiated in March, 2004 by GOB with the assistance of World Bank, and with Louis Berger Inc. as Principal Consultants and Bangladesh Consultant Ltd. as local partner. In August, 2004 an Advisory Committee comprising of some 32 members from different categories of professionals, engineers, planners, architects, academics and civil servants was appointed to guide and oversee the work of the consultants. The plan (STP) was completed in December, 2005.
The Strategic Transport Plan (STP) has made some strategic recommendations to solve the transportation problems of Dhaka City. The major components of the Strategic Transport Plan are the following:
(A) Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, which include the following components :
a) Three Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Routes of total length of about 200km. at a total cost of U. S. $ 1.0 billion
b) Three Metro Lines with an estimated cost of about U. S. $ 2.1 billion, or Taka 14,500 crore
(B) 50 Roadway Projects including the following components
a) Three elevated expressways: Gulistan-Jatrabari Flyover; Gulistan - Mohakhali Elevated Expressway; and Moghbazar Flyover; and
b) Two Bypass Roads: the Eastern Bypass and the Western Bypass.
The STP recommendations are highly capital-intensive option that will require a total investment of US$ 5.52 billion or Taka 38,000 crores for its implementation, but the benefits which will be achieved out of this investment will not be very significant. Some of the capital-intensive projects as recommended in the STP are discussed below :
Metro System: The STP team has recommended a Metro System comprised of three Metro Lines at a total cost of U.S. $ 2.1 billion or Taka 14,500 crores. The total length of the Metro Lines is not known, but I guess it will be about 70 km. in length. If we consider that people will walk down to Metro Stations from a distance of 1 km. to avail the Metro service, then the area-coverage of Metro service will only be about 140 sq. km. But, the total area of Dhaka Metropolitan City (RAJUK area) is about 1530 sq. km. Hence, the area-coverage of Metro Service will be less than 10 percent of total area of Dhaka Metropolitan City.
The STP team has failed to recognize some major disadvantages of Metro system, such as, they are technically difficult and potentially unfeasible in a city prone to flooding. If the Metro system has to be safe for implementation and operation, then Dhaka City will have to be made completely flood-free for all time, which will be extremely difficult.
Metro construction requires costly excavation. Typical costs of Metro is about $ 50.0 million to 240.0 million per km. Additional costs are involved with other infrastructures, such as underground Metro stations. A Metro station costs about $ 150.0 million.
Operating costs of Metros are extremely high requiring very expensive electric rail cars. Metro systems require constant and huge supply of electricity which will be very difficult to be ensured in Dhaka City. Most Metro systems of the world have operating deficits which can often severe the budget of the country.
Worldwide experience is that, except in a few cases the fare of the Metro ride is subsidized, and in some cases very heavily subsidized. The experience shows that the various Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) projects from the late 1990's are all in financial trouble and are nowhere achieving profitability.
In Sao Paulo Metro, the City Govt. pays a subsidy of $ 0.20 (25%) for each trip (total trips are 2.1 million per day). One of the more spectacular recent failures of a Metro and LRT was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In the system there was substantial subsidy in the fare. The result was a financial failure and the system was nationalized in late 2001. After only 3 years of operation the system accumulated debts of more than US$ 1.4 billion leading to the biggest bankruptcy in Malaysian corporate history. The 20km Metro in Singapore, built at a total cost of US$ 2.9 billion, have an operational loss of US$ 1.1 million per month in 2004.
The STP recommended Metro for Dhaka city, if it is built and operated, will have a minimum economic fare of Tk. 10.0 for the ride of 1 km. distance, which will be affordable only for a very small percentage of passengers. In order to make it affordable for middle-income group of people, at least 50 percent subsidy in the fare will be required. The STP has estimated that about 57,42,000 passenger trips will be carried daily by the Metro, and the average trip-lengths will be about 5 km. Hence, a subsidy of Tk. 143.55 million will have to be paid daily and the yearly subsidy will be about Tk. 5240 crores.
The construction of Metros is often agonizingly slow. The 20km Metro in Singapore was under construction for nearly 8 years. The Blue Line Subway (21km.) in Bangkok was under construction for about 7 years.
Flexibility to expand and adaptability to a changing situation is also a key requirement for any mass transit system. Dhaka is rapidly growing and the situation in the city is rapidly changing. But the expansion of the Metro system is very complex.
Per kilometer construction cost of Metro is about hundred times more than that of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, and thus the Metro system is likely to cover only a very small portion of the city and would be of far less use if the private auto users are not diverted to the Metro service.
According to the STP estimate, the Dhaka Metropolitan Study Area will generate daily seven crore travel-trips of which only 8% of the trips will be served by Metro service. With an investment of Tk. 14,500 crores, the Metro system will not be able to solve more than 10 percent of the transportation problems of Dhaka City.
Elevated Expressways and Flyovers: The STP team has recommended a system of Elevated Expressways and Flyovers of about 29 km. length. The construction cost of this system will be about U.S. $ 0.9 billion or Taka 6200 crores.
Elevated expressways generate their own traffic diverted from other roads. They favour only a very small minority of people driving cars and autos, often simply shift congestion from one point to another in the network, increases in noise, pollution, congestion and fuel consumption. As the former Mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Penalosa once remarked, “There are two ways to destroy a city. One is through nuclear bombing, and the other is with elevated roads”. The STP study itself exposed the potential disastrous consequences of elevated expressways. Government subsidies provided to the use of elevated expressways only favour the richest segment of the population which is contrary to equity goals. Evidence suggests that existing flyovers have actually caused an increase in traffic congestion on the roads below the flyovers.
In Dhaka city (in 2004) only one percent of the population was owners of autos and individualized transport (private car, jeep, micro, station wagon and pick-up). Flyovers and elevated expressways constructed at a great public expense, will only serve the needs of less than one percent people who own an individualized transport. For the remaining 99 percent of the people, these projects offer little benefit beyond increased difficulties and congestion, because the road capacities below the flyovers are reduced by at least 20 percent of the original capacity. Such facilities are of little benefit to buses, since buses generally move at ground level given the need for passenger to board and alight. These are inaccessible to pedestrians and cannot be used by rickshaws. They do not benefit the very large majority of people in the city and portrays a policy which cannot be sustainable.
Elevated expressways can only be justified in the cities where almost all families own a car. But in case of Dhaka, where auto-ownership is only one percent, it will be a great blunder to build elevated expressways. The capital once invested on such projects becomes fixed with the land and become unable to be withdrawn any significant part of the investment through failure to command a fair return from it.
The construction of elevated expressways through densely populated urban areas is likely to have serious detrimental impacts on environment and door-to-door accessibility. In Seoul, South Korea, government recently tore down an elevated expressway when they realized that it worsened the situation without solving any problem.
The STP recommendations are biased and is detrimental to the economy of the country.
Though the STP recommendations have been claimed to be a multimodal solution, but the study refers to only fuel-dependent transports ignoring the contributions of fuel-free non-motorized transports and pedestrians. Fuel-free non-motorized transport and pedestrian movements represent more than 50 percent of the total trips, and short trips constitute 76 percent of total trips in Dhaka City. How can the STP transport model be regarded as valid when it ignores the majority of the trips?
The STP study has other weaknesses as well. In order to assess mobility of passengers in a mixed mode urban area, it is imperative to evaluate transport alternatives with respect to door-to-door trips. The trip time or trip distance represents only a portion of the travel. The total travel constitutes link travel time, walking time, waiting time and penalties of modal transfer, which have not been considered in the STP model. Hence, the recommendations of the STP model do not ensure that this will increase the convenience of mobility and access for the majority of the people.
The Strategic Transport Plan (STP) for Dhaka city has opted for a transportation strategy which is highly capital intensive and which will require about US. $ 5.52 billion or Taka 38,000 crore for its implementation, but the strategy will not be successful in solving the transportation problem of Dhaka City. The reason is explained below:
When the population of a city increases, the volume of traffic on the roads also increases, and as the volume of traffic on the roads increases, the transportation problem also increases,. The Strategic Transportation Plan for Dhaka City has been prepared for a population of 1,98,00,000 (within RAJUK area) in the year 2024. Beyond this period population of Dhaka City will grow at least at a growth rate of 3.0 percent per annum. Hence, the solution of transportation problem which has been given for a population of 1,98,00,000 will soon become ineffective at an increased level of population in the City.
Then, what is the solution?
The big cities of the world, which have become successful in solving the transportation problem, have, at first, adopted the strategies to restrain the growth of population in the cities. At present, the population of London is 10.5 million and the population is not increasing for the last 35 years; the population of New York is 15.8 million and the population is not increasing for the last 25 years ; the population of Tokyo is 12.0 million and the population is not increasing for the last 20 years; the population of Paris is 8.75 million and the population is not increasing for the last 30 years.
It is not automatic that the growth has been stopped in these cities, Rather it is through deliberate planning that the growth has been controlled. When the growth of the cities are controlled, then it become easier to solve the problems of the city.
There are various strategies to control the growth of cities. The strategy of “Green-belt Plan and New Town Plan” was adopted to restrain the growth of London; the strategy of “satellite town plan” was adopted to restrain the growth of Tokyo; the strategy of “decentralized settlement” was adopted for New York; the strategy of “corridor plan” was adopted to manage the growth of Washington, etc.
All these strategies are not fully applicable for Dhaka to restrain its growth. The main cause of rapid growth of Dhaka is that, all powers of the country is concentrated in Dhaka. Any type of decentralization policy for administration, economy or population will not be successful without the decentralization of power. For the decentralization of the power, the country is required to be divided into a number of provinces.
Almost all countries of the world have a three tier administrative system. The top tier is the national government, below that the second tier is the provincial government, and at the bottom is the local government. This type of administrative system has a great influence on the distribution of city sizes in the country and also on the balanced development of the county.
There is no county in the world except Bangladesh which has got one province with 14 crore population. The USA, with a population of 22.8 crore is divided into 50 provinces; on an average each province has got a population of 45 lakhs. Japan with a population of 12.6 crore is divided into 47 self-governing prefectures. The Assam region of India is divided into seven provinces, in which no province has population more than 1.5 crore; as a result, there is no city in Assam region which has population more than one million.
For effective decentralization of power, Bangladesh should have a three-tier administrative system and the country should be divided into a number of provinces. We propose nine provinces in Bangladesh according to the following table and the Map attached. Dhaka Metropolitan Area, including Greater Dhaka District with the total area of 7378 sq. km. and the total population of 1,71,92,103 (in the year 2001), should become Dhaka Metropolitan Province, just like, Delhi Metropolitan Area is a province of India, Tokyo Metropolitan Area is a self-governing prefecture in Japan; New York Metropolitan Area is a State in USA.
The Central Govt. located at Dhaka will be comprised of the ministries of Defense; Foreign Affairs; Finance and Planning; Home and Establishment; Foreign Trade and Strategic Industries; National Transportation and Communication; etc. (not more than 10 ministries).
The Provincial Govt. located at the provincial capital will be comprised of Ministries of Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock; Health and Education; Local Govt., Urban and Rural Planning, Housing and Works; Food, Relief and Disaster Management; Religious Affairs and Social Welfare; Commerce and Industry; Land, Forest, Environment, Flood Control and Water Management; Roads and Highways; etc. (not more than 12 ministries)
If the policy of decentralization of power is materialized through the creation of self-governing provinces, then what will happen to Dhaka City?
Most of the ministries, government departments, organisations, corporations, and private offices will shrink in Dhaka. Two-thirds of the Secretariate Buildings will become vacant, BADC Bhaban at Motijheel and Matsya Bhaban at Kakrail will become completely vacant, WAPDA Bhaban at Motijheel will become 80 percent vacant, Education Directorate at Abdul Gani Road will become 70 percent vacant, PWD Bhaban at Segunbagicha will become 60 percent vacant, Housing Authority & Urban Development Building at Segunbagicha will become 90 percent vacant, Architecture office at Kakrail will become 70 percent vacant, Roads and Highway Department will become 70 percent vacant, LGED Bhaban at Agargaon will become 70% vacant. A large number of private offices and organisations will have to shift to provincial capital in order to run their businesses.
At least ten lakh people will decrease from Dhaka within three years of formation of Provincial Government. and another ten lakh people will continue to decrease during the next ten years.
Growth of population in Dhaka City will be effectively controlled. Solution to transportation and the water supply and sanitation problems will become easier and less costly. Many other problems of Dhaka will be much easier and cheaper to be solved.
The capital investment of Tk. 38,000 crores will no longer be required for the solution of transportation problem of Dhaka city. This amount can be evenly distributed to the provincial capitals for their development. A balanced development of the county will be ensured.
Demand for housing in Dhaka will decrease. House rent will decrease, Land value will decrease. Real Estate developers' business at Dhaka will decline, but will flourish at the provincial capitals.
Now, I tell you a story. A few days back I met a school teacher from Rangpur. I asked him, “Why have you come to Dhaka?” He replied, “I am going to retire very soon. I have come to Dhaka to enquire how much I shall get from benevolent fund after my retirement”. He also told. "I have traveled by night coach and reached Gabtali bus terminal in the morning, from Gabtali I went to my daughter's house in the cantonment, from there I went to the Education Directorate office at Abdul Gani Road, from there I went to BANBEIS office at Nilkhet, from BANBEIS office I came to you, from here I shall go to see my son at Malibagh, from Malibagh I shall return to my daughter's house at the cantonment, and next morning I shall return to Rangpur.” I found the gentleman extremely tired, exhausted and pale.
More than sixty thousand people come to Dhaka daily for such purposes and another sixty thousand people go out of Dhaka daily after performing their jobs. Since these people have to perform their jobs within a day or two, they undertake about 5-6 trips daily. In Dhaka, about three lakhs of vehicular trips are generated daily by these types of people. Again, more than 1000 numbers of bus trips are required daily to bring sixty thousand people to Dhaka, and another 1000 bus trips are required daily to take then out of Dhaka.
Now, the question is, can we not reduce the number of commuters to Dhaka and the generation of such a huge number of vehicular trips in Dhaka.
Surely the number of commuters to Dhaka and the generation of huge number of trips by them will be drastically reduced when the governmental power will be decentralized to the Provincial Capitals. Provincial citizens will not need to come to Dhaka, rather they will go to the Provincial Capitals to perform their purpose. Daily bus trips to and from Dhaka will be reduced by at least 50 percent. The pressure on all inter-city bus terminals will substantially be reduced.
The author is Professor, Dept. of Urban & Regional Planning, BUET, Dhaka.


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