Traffic mess : No easy solution
Events over the last one month must have proved resoundingly that there is just no magical or instant solution to the traffic mess. The problems are complex incapable of simplistic solutions that many had earlier fancied. For example, the agitation over accidental deaths led to many buses and other vehicles going off the roads in the face of police drive and students’ vigilance. This in turn created a huge gap in the number of people not finding enough vehicles to meet their transportation needs. In varying degrees this problem is continuing. Many distressed travelers were heard saying that the days of messy traffic with unlicensed drivers and unregulated driving were much better with people finding enough vehicles of all types on the roads for their use.
The number of vehicles in apparently unfit conditions or without requisite papers nonetheless met the basic transportation needs of the greatest number of people. Such a situation was considered comparatively a more preferable one than more regulated traffic but without adequate number of vehicles. A great many number of drivers without licenses were expected to go for the impossible task of getting licenses overnight from the already strained BRTC to cope with the demand. The drivers without papers, the owners of their vehicles, all had to keep their businesses closed that caused immense personal hardships in the monetary sense while road travelers were thrown into great peril from simply not finding enough vehicles to meet their transportation needs.
On the other hand, handing over of the tasks of policemen to school children created unjustifiably sights of no governance in the country. It was like an invitation for the people to take up law in their own hands.
Thus, the over one month long stirring of troubles over traffic movement that started with a bang has ended in a whimper. For even now, seemingly in the wake of sincere and continuous police drives, the march of accidental deaths is yet to slow down appreciably. People are starting to realize that a soberer and long drawn out approach to the mess is imperative and not sudden and fanciful ideas like letting loose children in the streets who should be in school with studies. For instance, analyses in the backdrop of the fiasco yielded information why drivers forced to cross their limits of endurance (sometimes non stop driving for seven or eight hours facing congested and damaged road surfaces) lose their cool and cause accidents from sheer fatigue. Then accidents are also caused in many cases by the sheer neglect of the people themselves. They will not use the zebra crossings or road bridges but run to cross the roads getting in the way of vehicles in speed. There are real reasons for people in general to go for right practices than blaming reckless driving, unfit vehicles, etc. There is indeed need for people to be less impulsive and to realize that there is just not one shot or simple solutions to the traffic situation. The same needs focused or dedicated addressing over a reasonable period of time and this time must be allowed to the authorities.
But apart from the safety side, actions must start in right earnest to reduce the costs of traffic jams. A seminar was organized sometime ago jointly by the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT). It gave vital information that traffic jams in Dhaka city take away people’s 8.5 million working hours annually, 40 per cent of which are business hours. The estimation from the seminar was that direct losses caused to businesses annually from the jams is some Taka 200 billion. The statistics are authoritatively given afresh. But similar assessments were made a number of times in recent years from other forums and the tally of losses were not different from this latest one indicating and underlining the point that the huge problem has been hardly addressed.
The seminar has gone only directly into losses arising from the jams. It has not calculated the higher price tags caused to people when they have to spend hours unnecessarily on the roads in sweltering heat from traffic jams that takes its toll on human health and productivity. Therefore, the costs of treating illnesses and loss of productivity from regularly suffering such conditions also need to be in the cost calculations of traffic jams.
There are no shortages of writing about traffic jams in the city. The same range from recommendations of building elevated expressways, underground trains, circular waterways around the city and so on. Yet others seem to like to persuade with prescriptions like banning car sale–immediately– to reduce congestion from too many vehicles congesting limited road spaces or launching a massive car hunt to find and take off the roads all kinds of old vehicles.
But these torrents of thoughts on sorting out Dhaka’s maddening traffic are only helping to distract attention from the main perpetrators of the jams : the traffic policemen who, instead of working to ease the jams, would be found doing just the opposite on proper examination. Thus, all should be giving a service in respect of bringing about some relief from the situation by speaking with a single voice and loudly enough to expose the failings of the traffic managers instead of adding more and more to a motley of high sounding, long time involving and costly ideas for getting rid of jams. Media persons and others speaking discordantly about the reasons for traffic jams are only helping to shield or put out of focus the traffic policemen who would be singularly found as most responsible on proper monitoring for keeping the awful jams alive, every day and every hour.
One only has to look at how the traffic policemen are mocking, as if , the commuters all the time. Two years ago they declared their new rules that henceforth they would give up their hand signaling and start getting the services of automatic signaling lights for regulating the traffic specially at intersections. This order was coupled with further instructions that the roads would be divided into four lanes for the express movement of a particular type of vehicle in each of these demarcated paths. The moves were welcome since experiences proved that traffic policemen abused the system of hand signaling by holding up traffic for too long most of the time. The demarcation of paths for faster and slower moving vehicles such as between motor cars and rickshaws was also necessary to stop tangles from forming as the slower moving vehicles blocked the faster ones.
But the traffic policemen are found to be the worst violators of the rules they declared with so much fanfare. Everywhere in the city they are found signaling with hands and nowhere they are found enforcing the rule that vehicles should move in their demarcated paths . It is a typical scene of traffic mismanagement to be seen everywhere in the city although the traffic managers maintain a pretension of applying the rules which they say are not paying dividends due to people’s non cooperation. But even a fool can get this insight after some days of observation in different parts of the city that people on the whole are more than eager to cooperate. Why the regulations are not working can be so transparently traced to their enforcers hardly doing anything on a regular basis to make them work.