Transport experts believe the government has taken a lenient stance towards transport leaders
The government during the last decade attempted to take the initiative on many occasions to bring about order in the transport sector, but failed owing to the influence and clout exercised by transport owners and workers' leaders.
To control the transport sector has literally become impossible, and the government seems to have taken a soft stance on the sector.
As for the latest case, the government met with strong opposition in trying to implement the Road Transport Act 2018.
This was nothing new. In the past, whenever the road transport regulating authorities launched drives against illegal driving licences and unfit vehicles on roads, transport owners and workers ceased to ply their vehicles, causing enormous public sufferings.
The hide-and-seek game has been continuing for years.
Transport experts believe the government has taken a lenient stance towards transport leaders on the ground that they played important roles during the Jamaat-BNP alliance's anti-government movements in 2013-14.
They defied opposition protests against the Awami League government and ran their vehicles on hartal days.
Eminent urban transport expert Dr Md Shamsul Hoque thinks the ruling party, the Awami League, has a soft corner for transport owners and workers.
"For this reason, the government does not take strict actions against them. But the government is indeed powerful enough to bring back order in the sector. If it does not act, the sector will be a black spot in the midst of the many successes of the government," said Shamsul Hoque, a professor at the Department of Civil Engineering and former director at Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
Ilias Kanchan, founder and chairman of Nirapad Sarak Chai, a local road safety advocacy group initiated in 1993, said transport workers, leaders and owners remain a formidable obstacle to implementing the government initiatives in the transport sector.
"These leaders are influencing the government in different ways and coming in the way of an implementation of the initiatives," said Kanchan, who is a prominent film actor of the country.
"The sector transports people and goods. When the government goes for action against the leaders and owners, they call strikes and create anarchy. As a result, prices of essential goods go up," he continued.
Ilias Kanchan urged the government to be strict in implementing its initiatives.
Rustom Ali Khan, executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, the largest organisation of transport workers, however said that it is not right to hold leaders and owners responsible for the non-implementation of government initiatives such as the Road Transport Act 2018.
"We too want that the law should be implemented and discipline should come to the transport sector. But the law is not realistic," he argued.
If this law is implemented right now, no one can run their vehicles, he added.
Road fatalities unrestrained
In the last 10 years, around 30,000 people died in road accidents nationwide, according to government reports.
Another report, published in 2018 by Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity (JKS) and the Accident Research Institute of Buet (Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology), said at least 25,120 people died in road accidents in the past three and half years across the country.
According to the report, 62,482 people were injured in road accidents during the period.
The decade just ended witnessed numerous tragic accidents. One can cite here the deaths of former finance minister M Saifur Rahman, 44 madrasa students on July 11, 2011 in Mirsarai, Chattogram, film director Tareque Masud and journalist Mishuk Munier, college students Rajib Hossain, Dia Khanam Mim and Abdul Karim Rajib.
But whenever there has been a hue and cry about road accidents, the government tried to quell the situation by taking temporary measures.
Once public outrage calmed down, the initiatives also died down. Deaths on roads, as a result, have remained unrestrained.
Ban on three-wheelers
Unrelenting killings on highways led the government into focusing on the country's highways.
Three-wheelers were to be kept off the highways as these slow-moving vehicles were one of the principal reasons for accidents on highways.
The government issued a ban order on three-wheelers, including Nasimon, Karimon, Bhatbhoti, Easybike and other non-mechanised vehicles, on national highways across Bangladesh from August 1, 2015.
But the move is yet to be implemented because the authorities concerned have not been able to stop such three-wheelers from plying on the highways.
Tanvir Haider Chowdhury, additional deputy inspector general of Highway Police, said measures were being taken to ban three-wheelers on highways.
"We are not allowing any three-wheelers on highways. Legal actions are also being taken against drivers who exceed the speed limit. As a result, the tendency towards high speed among them has been reduced on the highways," he said.
Ban on seating service in bus
The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority took an initiative to put a stop to unauthorised seating services in buses in Dhaka city.
The measure was supposed to come into effect from April 15, 2017. Bus owners also made a formal declaration of support for the government's initiative.
But the move did not succeed. Owners are even now running their buses through unauthorised seating services, causing city commuters to pay extra for services that resemble conditions in "local" buses.
When asked, Kamrul Ahsan, chairman of the road transport regulatory body, said he did not know about the latest situation regarding the initiative as he had recently joined his post.
Running all city buses under 6 companies
In an effort to contain the mad race by public transport vehicles on city roads, Annisul Huq, the late mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation, took the initiative of having all buses run under six companies.
But his sad demise on November 30, 2017 put paid to the initiative.
Later, the government asked the Dhaka South City Corporation and Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority to implement the initiative. At a recent programme, Dhaka South City Mayor Sayeed Khokon said a decision in this regard could be made by March 2020.
Khandakar Rakibul Islam, executive director of Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority, said the body was planning to run a project, based on the initiative, on a small scale within one year. But it would take a few years to introduce the franchising route process, he said.
"We have been working on it, and we need some time to implement it," said Rakibul.
Premier's intervention in 2018
Following a huge public outcry after several shocking road accidents in Dhaka, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came up with six directives in June 2018.
At a cabinet meeting, she gave the directives, including keeping reserve drivers on long-haul vehicles, restricting drivers to a maximum of a five-hour drive at one go, training drivers and helpers, installing service centres or restrooms for drivers at regular intervals on highways, preventing jaywalking, and making everyone comply with traffic signals and fastening seatbelts.
But none of the directives has been implemented yet.
Again, on August 16 the same year, the premier issued a set of 17 directives for transport following the public outrage caused by the deaths of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College students Dia Khanam Mim and Abdul Karim Rajib in a road accident in Dhaka.
Those orders included keeping the doors of running buses locked and stopping the picking up and dropping off of passengers away from proper stoppages in order to ensure road safety in the capital.
Some other major directives included displaying the names and photos of drivers and helpers, their driving licences and mobile numbers at two noticeable spots inside vehicles, carrying out all activities of that year's Traffic Week, and introducing a remote-controlled automatic electric signalling system in Dhaka city.
But most of these initiatives did not see the light of day.
Mofiz Uddin Ahmed, additional commissioner (traffic) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told the Business Standard that a task force had been formed for this purpose and that it was working to implement the directives.
Echoing Mofiz Uddin, Khandakar Enayetullah, secretary general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners' Association, said the owners too were working on bringing order into the transport sector and on the city roads as well.
Road Transport Act 2018
After much drama for more than one year, the government finally enforced the Road Transport Act 2018 on November 1, 2019. The law was passed by parliament on September 19, 2018.
The new road transport law was passed as per demand of students who had been protesting countrywide after two of their fellows from the city's Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College were killed by a reckless bus on July 29, 2018.
But in the wake of movements by transport owners and workers, the government miserably failed to implement the law.
The transport owners and workers met Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal at the latter's home and discussed their reservations about the law.
The home minister promised to look into the problems related to certain provisions of the law by June 30.
The fate of 111 recommendations
The National Road Safety Council, the country's apex body on road safety, formed a 15-member committee at its 26th meeting on February 17, 2019 for making recommendations on how to ensure road safety.
On April 28 that year, the committee submitted its report, containing 111 recommendations, to the prime minister.
Of the recommendations, 50 have been marked for immediate implementation while 32 for short-term and 29 for long-term implementation.
The committee proposed to the government that 50 immediate recommendations be implemented by December 2019.
But none of the recommendations was executed by December last year because the task force, set up for implementing the 111 recommendations, convened its first meeting on November 24, 2019.
The 33-member task force, headed by Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, was formed on October 5.
Transport expert Professor Shamsul Hoque said the main reason behind non-implementation of the recommendations is that the government is trying to solve all the problems by forming committees but not by building the capacity of the institutions that are tasked to do so.
"As the government has failed to increase the capacity of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority and other relevant bodies, these institutions cannot be brought under accountability. And this is why these measures cannot be implemented," said Professor Shamsul Hoque.