Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city has an acute shortage of transport. The road network is limited. It seems there are as many modes of transport as is the population. The road is as chock blocked as the various transport objects available in this city.
Movement from one place to the other is not easy at all. It takes an art of patience and creativity to wade through the Dhaka’s road network. There are constant and prolonged traffic jams on almost all roads and highways in Dhaka. The roads are wide enough but there is no organised manner in which traffic moves. A four-lane highway can have six rolls of traffic heading in all any direction. Lane discipline and road courteous are not in the books of Dhaka’s road users. The overwhelming presence of private owned vehicles, public buses, motor bikes, bicycles, pedestrians and the Dhaka famous Rickshaws all add up to the traffic build-up in this city. Dhaka is known as the Rickshaw Capital of the World. Approximately 400,000 cycle rickshaws run each day. This is way too much for a limited road network.
The cycle rickshaw is a small-scale local means of transport; it is also known by a variety of other names such as velotaxi, pedicab, bikecab, cyclo, becak, trisikad, or trishaw or, simply, rickshaw which also refers to auto rickshaws, and the, now uncommon, rickshaws pulled by a person on foot. Cycle rickshaws are human-powered, a type of tricycle designed to carry passengers in addition to the driver. They are often used on a for hire basis. Cycle rickshaws are widely used in major cities around the world, but most commonly in cities of South, Southeast and East Asia.
An auto rickshaw or three-wheeler (tuk-tuk, trishaw, auto, rickshaw, autorick, bajaj, rick, tricycle, mototaxi, or baby taxi in popular parlance) is a usually three-wheeled cabin cycle for private use and as a vehicle for hire. It is a motorized version of the traditional pulled rickshaw or cycle rickshaw. Auto rickshaws are an essential form of urban transport in many developing countries like Bangladesh.
Jaywalking or Right of Way?
There is a huge combo of road users – pedestrians, automobiles, motor cycles, bicycles, domesticated animals and other human propelled modes of transport. Not all roads are smooth or paved. A large portion of the tarred road network has pot-holes or badly damaged. Some roads have pedestrian crossings but people never use them. This is because they can easily cross the busiest highway at any point without being cited for “jaywalking” – in fact, a pedestrian has a “right of way” and can stop moving traffic if they so wish. All it takes is to raise a hand and wave a stop sign and all the incoming traffic will reduce speed, stop or change its direction.
What is most frustrating about Dhaka’s road network and transport system is that no one pays attention to traffic rules and regulations. The few that attempt to use road facilities and services smartly are easily seen as docile and end up staying on the road for longer periods of time.
Lack of stiff traffic regulation and implementation of the pieces of legislation that exist makes it very difficult to control road usage in Bangladesh. The available public buses are usually overloaded with people packed to fit in as many passengers as possible. Buses can stop anywhere on the road, pick or drop passengers without any offence. In certain places, there are traffic police officers and private security guards that try to control or guide traffic flow especially during peak periods.
It is very common to spend more than an hour held up in traffic jam – even where the destination is within reach.
Besides being over crowded, Dhaka has so many moving objects on its road network. This in turn creates the jams that last forever. Few road users care about other users. It is like once on the road, others do not matter. Road users ahead of the traffic pack control the flow or movement of things on Dhaka’s roads. The combined presence of pedestrians, vehicles, motor bikes, bicycles, cycle and auto Rickshaws creates this never ending traffic jams in Dhaka. There is also a general feeling that Dhaka dwellers do not like walking –even the shortest distance – they would rather hop on a Rickshaw. They also never share the few available seats in their cars or on hired Rickshaws.
It is a known fact that Dhaka faces a very serious transport and road problem. As a visitor to Dhaka and Bangladesh in general, Bengalis can do justice to themselves and ease up their ever-growing transport problem by considering adhering to some of the basic road rules. If they coordinate the way they use public transport and follow instructions from the traffic controllers, much could improve. Bengalis must also learn to share transport with others. It is unbelievable that people going in the same direction or place would all hire vehicles, Rickshaws or drive in 14 seat buses with only one passenger. The more objects on the road, the more jams and the longer the time spent in traffic. The prolonged hold in traffic leads to lost productivity, which has a very negative effect on economic growth. Public service transporters could do better if they consider being courteous to other road users. It does not make one a loser if the consider other road users. Hooking and hooting never stops. Its like road users move with their fingers on hooters and bells all the time. I wonder how my ears will be after close to two months in Bangladesh. The completion of the on-going overhead road project and flyover bridges in selected areas will also ease up the burden of traffic jams in Dhaka.
Fair road record
What is somewhat impressive about the drivers and riders in Dhaka is the way they make some scene look like a major accident is bound to take place when in the actual sense none takes place. There are very few road related accidents but there are scenes that create an impression like an accident is likely to take place. They drive and ride way to well within the sidelines of each other but never bash other road users. I am very surprised that despite the close shaves between pedestrians and other road users, I have not seen any major accident. I have seen some trucks by roads sides with damaged parts – signifying that they had been involved in a road accident. It leaves me to wonder whether bus drivers in my country (Zambia) can navigate through these roads. Zambian bus drivers are criticized as being mean and selfish of all road users in Lusaka. But what I have seen here and to some extent what I witnessed in Mexico City (Mexico) and Cairo (Egypt) would make any rude Zambian driver look like an amateur.
Generally, there is nothing safe on the roads. The only precaution is strict adherence to basic road rules.