One popular school of thought assumes that a certain amount of road space is required for efficient transport and traffic movement whereas other strands of thought believe that increasing road space is not the ultimate solution to traffic congestion. Rather, it is the management of vehicles which is the most important factor in efficient traffic movement.
The traffic problem of Dhaka is one of the major problems of the capital city that its dwellers are facing in their everyday life. Despite all the planning, programmes and projects designed by the successive governments, the situation is getting worse day by day.
Hence, some underlying questions related to traffic and transport system of Dhaka city deserves due considerations, such as whether transport planning and management were given proper attention in the past years. What were the past planning efforts regarding transport and traffic in Dhaka city? Why these efforts have proved to be unsuccessful for better transport management of Dhaka city and what are the shortcomings of those plans?
Dhaka city's urban transport system is unique among the cities of comparable size in the world, being predominantly road-based with a substantial share for non-motorised transport, notably cycles and rickshaws. Buses and minibuses, the cheapest and only public transport system, have not been able to increase their share and cater to the demand because of service deficiencies.
The existing urban transport system is a major bottleneck for the development of the city. Anarchic urbanisation caused by poor transportation and land use planning has resulted in decreased accessibility, level of service, safety, comfort, and operational efficiency. This has resulted in increased costs, loss of time, air pollution, psychological strain. This has also posed a serious risk to the economic viability of the city and the sustainability of its environment.
The uniqueness of Dhaka city's transport problem has posed some critical questions regarding the tentative solutions to its transport crisis that this city is facing tremendously. Due to the horrendous traffic jam in Dhaka, city dwellers have to waste their work hours as well as family and leisure hours on the road. Traffic problems thereby have created psychological stress in the common people which have jeopardised the mental health of commuters as well.
Dhaka's traffic situation has worsened over the years despite various transport development projects and subsequent investments. Various transport related studies, projects and plans have been formulated and implemented for Dhaka's transport solutions. There are various agencies under different ministries that are related to the traffic and transportation system of Dhaka city. Hence, lack of coordination among these agencies creates anomalies and mismanagement in the city's transport system.
An overlapping of functions regarding traffic control and management exists between Dhaka city corporations and Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP).This situation has arisen owing to the fact that both Clause-118 (Traffic Control) of the Dhaka City Corporation Ordinance1983 and Clause-17 (a) of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance 1976provide for the "control of traffic" on the road. So far, the city corporations have neither invoked this provision of the ordinance nor formulated rules and regulations for the management of traffic.
In spite of the poorly organised regulations, the city corporations have installed traffic signals at a number of intersections. Street lanes have been marked, and construction and maintenance of street projects have been undertaken.
The remaining functions of traffic management, such as management of movement of traffic, determination of the direction of traffic flow, parking control, and stoppages of vehicles on the street are being performed by the DMP in addition to their main duties of enforcing traffic rules and regulations. Normally, traffic management should be performed by the city corporations, and the enforcement of traffic rules and regulations by the city police.
According to the proposals of Strategic Transport Plan (STP), the police should be relieved of their duties to organise and manage traffic flows and this function should be transferred to city corporations. However, even after so many years after finalising the STP, DMP is still performing the traffic management activities of Dhaka city without having the requisite technical expertise to deal with this critical and technical matter.
Moreover, agencies like Rajuk that should be engaged in the development activities for planned development of the city are engaging in the construction of flyovers in various parts of the city. As a result, efficient transport management is quite absent here in Dhaka city although we have transport plans named STP and RSTP (Revised Strategic Transport Plan) whose recommendations and proposals have not been given due importance by the policymakers.
The STP for Dhaka city was approved in 2005 for a period of twenty years until 2025. STP proposed for different alternatives such as introducing the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as a solution to the transport problems among ten alternative transportation strategies which were based upon an initial assessment of the technical information from the travel demand model.
However, it is an irony that no BRT line has been constructed till now though STP suggested completing the BRT lines by 2015 for significantly reducing Dhaka's traffic jam. Instead of following the directions and ranking of alternative proposals for Dhaka's transport planning according to STP, the government has revised and modified the STP and produced RSTP which eventually proposed five MRT lines and two BRT lines. However, no detail financial, transport, environmental or social feasibility study or impact assessment was made before finalising the proposals for RSTP. Even like STP, no transport alternative choices and their subsequent assessments regarding financial or technical viabilities were considered before finalising the final RSTP proposals regarding MRT and BRT proposals.
According to the draft Detailed Area Plan for Dhaka city, less than 20 percent city trips will be operated through the metro rail although the lion's share of transport investments is made for MRT projects. Investments in these mega projects surely have opportunity costs for Bangladesh in terms of decentralisation of development where many regions have not been given proper allocation in terms of budget and resource mobilisation. On the other hand, though we have multi-modal transport policy since 2013, we have not given proper attention to the integration of pedestrian, bus, rail and water networks.
Though STP has stressed mostly on "Pedestrian First Policy" and improving bus networks, the transport authorities have not succeeded in establishing integrated walkway networks, and increasing the number of quality bus services. The illusive "Bus Route Franchising" is yet to be implemented which could have major impacts on establishing transport orders in Dhaka city. Conversely, in every sphere of the world where MRT lines are in operation, metro systems have been subsidised. In addition, another feasibility study is going on for Dhaka Sub-Way projects and the irony is that these ideas are not consistent with the prevailing land use plans or transport plans for Dhaka.
To solve Dhaka's transport problems, road hierarchy should be established and traffic lanes should be marked properly for efficient traffic movement. Continuous and convenient walkway facilities should be developed and proper budget allocation should be made for improvement of footpaths. At the same time, illegal structures or hawkers should not be allowed on major streets of the city.
The introduction of the Floor Area Ration policy in the Dhaka Building Construction Rules2008 has a major impact on densification of buildings, allowing high-rise buildings even along narrow roads which have contributed to higher amounts of traffic circulation. Therefore, a revision of the rules is necessary for limiting the density of population of an area in order to limit the number of trips and traffic.
Though some community-based bus services have been introduced in the city in the recent past, such as Dhakar Chaka in Gulshan or circular bus services, these services should be increased as per the demand analysis in different communities and neighbourhoods. In addition, various types of bus services should be introduced according to the demand and affordability of different socio-economic groups Dhaka dwellers.
Women bus services that are currently operational are very much inadequate compared to the huge demand for this type of service. Hence, proper demand assessments for women bus services and school bus services should be made before introducing these services. Moreover, the role of non-motorised vehicles like rickshaw should be earmarked and route plans for rickshaws should be designed properly involving planners and professionals. In addition, ward- or community-based traffic mobility plan and community-based para-transit system should be formulated and designed for ensuring efficient traffic movement in different parts of the city.
We have chosen the high cost ride for traffic solutions for Dhaka, but the question remains whether it will be effective without establishing the efficient multi-modal transport network. And also, whether we would always like to invest in Dhaka city only to attract more people here without considering the investment opportunity cost of transport-related mega projects.
Dr Adil Mohammed Khan is the General Secretary of Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP)