Looking objectively at Dhaka’s traffic scene

The media has reported that government is bent on restricting the use of private cars in response to frequent allegations as if the private vehicles are the main source of traffic congestion in Dhaka city. Only cars that would carry four to five persons would be allowed to move on the roads. Besides, the driving of privately owned cars in certain areas would be completely prohibited.
The suggestion is that these restrictive practices would keep a large number of private motor vehicles off the roads allowing greater spaces for other forms of vehicular traffic easing, thus, the traffic jams. Private cars considering the few in number who travel in them are not serving the purpose of mass movement of the greatest number of commuters but occupy disproportionately bigger spaces.
The apparent persuasive logic of the above can be quite contradicted by the realities that exist. First of all, it can be objectively said that private cars are not the main source of traffic jams. These vehicles are relatively faster in movement and rather help in easing traffic snarls that is not possible by the far slower moving and manually operated rickshaws, paddled vans, etc. Besides, if private cars carry a small number of people, then the awkward rickshaws transport a far smaller number, only two at a time. As it is, the causes of jams are many and varied but at the head of the list is bad or ineffective traffic policing.
Plans are announced by the traffic police department such as using intensely the automatic signaling lights only to mock their own plans by continuing with manual signaling holding traffic at a standstill unreasonably for a long time and helping the creation of jams. They do not ensure the stopping of buses at proper bus stops which also is a major reason for jams. Unauthorised and careless parking of vehicles on the roads reduce road spaces for vehicular movement to which the policemen turn a blind eye most of the time. Hawkers displaying their merchandise on roads also gobble up spaces. Parking lots are not used as well as they should be. Traffic police also seem to be unconcerned by this phenomenon.
There are many other factors also that should explain–generally– why the jams occur all the time. Ignoring them and focusing only on the issue of private cars is not a realistic one. It is rather to be considered as a highly discriminatory one by private car owners. Enforcing the restrictions on private cars leaving the other factors for jams unaddressed, will likely not have any positive impact on the traffic scene. Instead more problems will be created than what is intended to be solved.
The number of registered private cars in use in Dhaka is less than 200,000. A great deal of personal investments as well as banks’ financing have gone into most of them. The amounts would be under a threat if the restrictions are applied. A large number of people have found employment as drivers, as repairing workshop owners and mechanics, sellers of car parts, etc. The livelihood of these people would be pushed into peril not to mention the great stress and sheer unhappiness for the owners and the family members of the owners of private cars. Creating so much troubles and anguishes to press ahead with enforcement for realizing a single objective while not treating the other major sources of the problem– practically considered as more serious — clearly cannot be considered as useful policy.
Government must not be seen as travelling backward in time. A view of Dhaka city with few or no cars on its roads will not be any good for its image problem. Nor will the same development be well received by a large number of its most resourceful, capable and sensitive residents. The solution to a headache involves not cutting off the head but in treating the ache by the best possible means for a comprehensive cure. And let not this fact be lost on the policy makers either that importing of some hundreds of buses to make up for the void to be created from the disappearance of private cars from the roads of Dhaka , will hardly fill up this deliberately created gap in transportation capacities .


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