Two wheeled menace and the family man
A family man plays safe. He googles the safest option when purchasing a screwdriver. He doesn't go out in the rain. He plays it safe because he's responsible. So it goes against logic when a family man uses a motorcycle for family transport. Riding a motorcycle is like dancing on a hungry polar bears head while the bear is fighting mutant alligators. Yet, Bangladeshi streets are full of motorcycles that are full of family members. It's not uncommon to see the parents and three children with a day's grocery carving through the city traffic, precariously balanced on a bike. That's not responsible, is it?
“It's about cost. I can't afford a car, fuel may be cheap but tax and maintenance is a killer. And reality is such that it is actually more expensive to use rickshaws and CNG autorickshaws. But I need transport I can find readily, right away,” says Tareq, a young mechanic in his mid 30's. His two-wheeler gets him to his clients when they call him for home service. And it's easier to get his wife and kid to places quickly, conveniently.
Convenience is a big factor. Middle and lower middle class families live in small apartments with no parking space whatsoever. “Even if we could scrounge up the money for a car, where would we keep it? My tiny bike fits under the stairs where the water meters are,” says Arman who just recently got a better job as a teller at a private bank. Every morning, he knows that he doesn't have to worry about transport, his bike will get him to work. And work demands punctuality. 'A bike is also easier to get through the traffic. In Dhaka, streets are full of stationary cars.”
Sanjana Akhter works in telecom. She gets dropped off by her husband by motorbike. “It plays havoc with my hair. But it gets us both to where we need to go.” She defended the biking choice further by saying it might be scary when buses loom on both sides but what choices are there? But a motorbike according to Sanjana is no vehicle to have a child on board.
I caught up with Babul Ahsan of Lalbagh. He has a business in old town and he's been a biker for the last 32 years. He considers it a bit of a record that in all those years he has not had a serious accident so far. How? “I've been playing it safe. I ride slow. And I'm a little afraid every time I get on a bike so I take no chances. I give way to everything on the road. But I can't think of using a car, it's too constricting, even when I'm riding with my family.” What about rain? Dust? People spitting from nearby busses? He laughs and says these are minor issues that he's learned to live with. Riding with a full family on a motorbike is a cultural thing. Babul Ahsan added that it's not changing anytime soon, unless the government makes a law outlawing the use of bikes as a microbus. People will pile up on it because every day it's getting even more difficult to commute. Walking is not a Bangladeshi thing, not in this humid weather.
Motorcycles are dangerous. But they offer convenience, practicality and affordability especially when people have to consider the rising price of just about everything. Running a family on a budget is getting ever more difficult. Hence the tradeoff between safety and convenience.