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8 December, 2017 00:00 00 AM


Combating traffic congestion

Two major factors contribute to Dhaka’s current traffic congestion, lack of planning-driven preparation over previous decades, and an over-reliance on cars due to a deficient public transport system
Sabbir Rahman Khan
Combating traffic congestion

Imagine you come out on the road chasing clock-wise commute and found yourself on an apparently empty road. Then, you see bus conductors are hailing their voice echoing “No Plastics on the left”.

By the way, “Plastic” is the popular colloquial term used by the bus clan to refer car-infestation on city roads. Meanwhile, you have somehow managed to dig out the reason behind this carless traffic spree from one of your fellow commuters. You, being the witness of the urban sprawling in Dhaka, know how the traffic-milieu went untamed and the way it is giving a headstrong towards the carbon-mongered people surviving here. So, seeing the roads braving the traffic is definitely giving you a sigh of relief.

Endorsing a bit out of the box approach, Carfree zoning or Car-holiday is no alien to the celebrated metropolises. Tracing back to its conceptualisation, a theoretical design for a carfree city of one million people was first proposed by J.H. Crawford in 1996 and further refined in his books, Carfree Cities and Carfree Design Manual. For over a decade, the car-free day has acquired focused attention around the world. On June17, 1997, Weybridge, the world's first national Carfree Day (CFD) inaugurated by the Environmental Transport Association (ETA) in Britain. Prior to Carfree Day in the mid-90s, there were some attempts to restrict the use of vehicles in some areas. To refer a few: due to oil crisis in the 70s, Europe started to celebrate Carfree day and it gave the strong impetus of leading the post-2000 era as a global leap forward to celebrate it widely. At present around 4000 cities celebrate Carfree Day on September22. Moreover Bogota, Jakarta and some other cities celebrate Car free week. Bangladesh is celebrating Car free Day from 2006 in a non-governmental level. This year, the slogan of World Carfree day was “Go car free and choose your ride: walk, bike or take a bus” which has followed by major cities around the world and so did Dhaka city. In this regard, this year, Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA) along with 48 other private organisations and NGOs organised a daylong event at Manik Mia Avenue.

Dhaka is the worst city in terms of density and ranked 16 in traffic congestion laden with haphazard parking, excessive private vehicles and violation of traffic rules, faulty road construction along with multi-modal traffic in a single route, erroneous crossing, VIP movement, population influx, rail crossings, unplanned fuel stations and many more to chalk out. Overburdened with this horrendous traffic congestion incurs a loss of Tk2.27bn in a month. The loss includes Tk2.04bn for waste of time and Tk0.23bn core for fuel burn of vehicles. Kindly be informed that congestion in Dhaka city swallows 3.2 million working hours per day.

Transportation system of Dhaka city is predominantly road based. According to World Bank, a city must have 25 percent road network for smooth traffic, but Dhaka has only 7 percent.  At present, around 5000 buses run on approximately 194 city routes. The majority of trips in Dhaka are served on public transport and non-motorised transport modes (NMT) or Para-transits due to a significant number of lower income people who cannot afford personal vehicle. Buses in Dhaka city are operated both by private and public sectors. The private sector is dominating and provides a monopoly service (95 percent of total bus services) compared to public sector operation. Studies found that a pool of 140 companies is currently operating in the network where 7-8 companies are playing the heavy weight monopoly by dominating 26 percent of the fleet. The current bus network provides low coverage, has several route overlaps and does not meet passenger trip patterns. Alone in the Dhaka Metropolitan Area (DMA), a staggering 21 million trips take place daily yet failing to attend passengers’ demand due to their erratic routing which results in buses pile up in the arterials, with combined frequencies that even reach 9 buses per minute in the same direction. According to Strategic Transport Plan (STP), present contribution of mass transit is around 30-40 percent of the passenger trips whereas mass transit should share 80 percent of the total trips to provide an efficient transportation system.

Two major factors contribute to Dhaka’s current traffic congestion, lack of planning-driven preparation over previous decades, and an over-reliance on cars due to a deficient public bus system leading to an undemocratic ownership of private automobiles by 33 per 1000 persons in Dhaka, lagging behind all other Asian cities. Studies found that, private cars take over 60-65 percent of roads in this city, while public transports use 7 percent. The rest of the road space is occupied by other vehicles, illegal structures and unauthorised vehicle parking. Furthermore, private cars have taken up more than 50 percent of available road space in Dhaka and, a car can merely accommodate two people in a 10-square-feet space, while a public transport can accommodate 15 people on the same space. Even though there are 33 times more cars than buses in Dhaka city, surprisingly, cars account for just 6-8 percent of passenger transport, while buses are responsible for 49 percent.  Shockingly, this paltry 6-8 percent of the users is occupying 76 percent of the streets. According to BRTA, around 19,000 imported reconditioned cars have been added to Dhaka’s traffic in the FY 2015-16. They further revealed that streets of Dhaka accommodate a total of 246,697 private cars at present. Today, the average traffic speed in Dhaka oscillates between 5 to 6 kph.  But if vehicle growth continues at its current pace, without substantial public transport investment, the average speed may fall to 4.7 kph by 2035, about as slow as walking. However, in the proposed budget for the FY 2017-18, the government has suggested reducing the depreciation facility on imported cars by 5 percent. If it is approved, car prices are expected to increase slightly which will curtail the frequency of car purchase per person. In addition, the proposed Road Transport Act 2017, awaiting a pass in the parliament, recommends determining the number of private cars owned by each family in Dhaka.

Dhaka can be made a less car-spawned city by strategic closures of streets to car traffic and by opening streets and squares to promote “Pedestrianisation”. The term “Pedestrianisation” usually aims to provide better accessibility and mobility for pedestrians, to enhance the business activity in the area and to improve the attractiveness of the local environment in terms of aesthetics, air pollution, noise and accidents involving pedestrians. However, a well-designed traffic plan before closing any street is a prerequisite and at least three different plans must be developed: (1) local area traffic management plan for diverting traffic from the walking street, (2) multi-modal public transport plan for travellers visiting the walking street and (3) plan for pedestrian movement around walking street. Moreover, regarding the new areas growing on the fringe of Dhaka city, concept of “Filtered Permeability” (2007) and a model for planning towns and subdivisions namely the “Fused Grid” (2003) could be followed. Because, both of these concept focus on shifting the balance of network design in favour of pedestrian and bicycle mobility.

To knock car-led traffic congestion off the grid, an extension of the road network may be planned for redistributing the traffic that will result in manifold eases including industry-competitive lead time for dispatch of export goods, especially for RMG products. Furthermore, this would garner the maximization of the connectivity and accessibility among all social groups and zones within Dhaka in a context of sustainable mobility. Furthermore, the current streamlining of Dhaka’s public transport system based on a mass transit system should ensure a ubiquitous consensus from both the public and private end. In line with this, a responsibility sharing momentum between the public and private entities need to emerge which would entail a comprehensive Bus Network Planning leading to a batch of reforms focusing physical specification of the bus terminal, preparation of detailed operational plan (e.g., Routes/Itineraries, Operation/Services, Organisation, Fleet, Fares etc.), investment (vehicle fleet, depots and other equipment), bus network operation (e.g., deployment of supporting structures such as bus stops, ticket counters and institutionalising a modern fare ticketing system), asset maintenance, revenue collection etc.

Before pulling down the curtain, it is to put under the spotlight again that time is at its peak to fix the bottlenecks of traffic congestion in Dhaka city before it is too late. Because, already we have a number of road-blocks in our path of development and, coupled with this car-arrest daily life makes it difficult to triumph over. And, coming to the carfree zoning agenda, we need to ensure that car-free zoning must not be arranged to feed the media only, rather to organize in a manner which will promote a good practice towards real success in the coming days. In addition, car-free zoning or car-free day cannot be implemented unless the government is seriously committed to this. To receive commitment of the government, concern about the socio-economic impacts by closing the streets should be forecast and analyzed in advance. Thus, this would ensure a compatible relationship beforehand between local government and local people, who are directly going to be affected by the program and other relevant agencies of the government.

Yes, there will be uncertainties, because a city like Dhaka, where people become comfortably-numb with traffic congestion, can’t be freed from cars overnight (perhaps requiring significant reorganisation of the city's transportation arrangement). Meanwhile, it is worth mentionable that the combined benefits from reduced traffic congestion and reduced transport system costs would mean that each BDT spent would do about 6 BDT of good. So, it is high time we put forward a collective interest irrespective of public-private segmentation to reap this opportune benefit with an egalitarian approach. Lastly, in this wake of energy-cry and further to our ratification of SDGs, any step to hold the rein of this car-conundrum would definitely serve the greater interest towards making this city liveable for the generations to come.

The writer is an Assistant Secretary (Research and Development), The Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI)







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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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