Hawkers and rickshaw pullers

Among the prescription for curing road jams in Dhaka city, two suggestions have been there for a long time : getting rid of the rickshaws from main roads and also evicting the hawkers from there. The slow-moving rickshaws help to create traffic jams and the hawkers occupy road spaces blocking the free flow of traffic and pedestrians.
But the two appear to be grossly oversimplified solutions also to the problem of traffic jams. For there are many reasons for traffic jams– all of them equally important and highly contributory to the ever present jams. Thus, it is not wisdom to blame the jams only on hawkers and rickshaws and going for surgical like drastic measures thinking that the same would like Aladin’s lamp magically make traffic jams a think of the past.
Indeed, the traffic jams issue is not so simple that it can be so easily solved by only evicting hawkers and rickshaws. If it were, then why do we see such chronic jams all the time even in thoroughfares where rickshaws do not ply and the hawkers do not sit. This situation only goes to prove that the problem of traffic jams is a multi-faceted phenomenon that can be addressed with only multiple measures. Of course, none will deny that transition from rickshaws to motorized transports and getting the hawkers into shops instead of pavements, are desirable developments for a planned and neat city as well as for the partial positive impact of the same on road jams.
But it is also extremely important not to attach disproportionate importance to these two factors for jams and going for abrupt actions to scare away all the hawkers and rickshaws away from the roads at one go. The same may be attempted in a graduated manner over time building alternative opportunities for the hawkers and rickshaw pullers and as the plans and their implementation to this end make progress. Any attempt to rob them of their occupations overnight will neither lead to any significant ameliorative effect on jams but would rather lead to volcanic like eruptions of discontent on the part of the victims of such actions. The same then could very dangerously undermine peaceful living and social relations not only in the nation’s capital city but gradually also elsewhere in the country. Certainly such anarchies must not be allowed to be encouraged in Dhaka city by poorly conceived decision on the part of government leaders. Bangladesh would be well set in no time on a course like the French revolution from encouraging such policies.
Besides, one also has to look at the economic rational behind such moves. The eviction of hawkers and rickshaw pullers will not solve the traffic jam problem. But it would take away self-employment and means of earning their subsistence from a vast number of the poor in the city. Government is not helping any with their survival. They are helping themselves and providing basic needs to themselves and their family members. But all on a sudden, they could find their ways of earnings or income gone. Nothing could be more unkind or inconsiderate and also economically counter productive as the eviction move would only seriously worsen unemployment and poverty.
The hawkers peddle merchandise on roads which are far cheaper than ones at stores as they have to bear no establishment costs. And non affluent people are mainly the consumers of such relatively cheaper products. They would loathe to see their handy source of supply gone. The hawkers and their family members and the non affluent consumers together form the greater number in the population of the city. It can be neither democratic nor benevolent to rob them of their source of earnings and better bargain respectively. Not only the hawkers live off their trade directly. A large number of people are engaged in the small enterprises that produce the numerous merchandise peddled by the hawkers. Thus, there are large investments in such enterprising also. Thus, the hawkers, their family dependents, the producers of the goods they sell and their family dependents as well – all would be threatened by the eviction. Some 10 to 20 million people could be adversely affected.
As for the rickshawpullers, they are officially some 70 thousand in numbers but actually are more than a million strong. They and their dependants form a vast number of the poor in the city . The rickshaws are also completely relied on by a very large section of middle class people who cannot even dream of owning private cars nor can they ride suffocating transports like buses. The rickshaws are also completely environment-friendly and enable import substitution of fuel oil on a large scale.
Government must not ignore all of these economic considerations and go for rabid actions that would only compound the problems.Let us not forget that Bangladesh is still known to a large extent as the land of the poor than anything else. Thus, government needs to be extremely wary in adopting policies with potentials of pushing the poor or the non affluent ones over the brink inviting very probably very bad retaliatory effects