Sitting Service Dilemma: Balance of Advantage & Disadvantage

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Written By Tusher Abdullah

MNA Editorial Desk: Over the last 10 years, the population of Dhaka has more than doubled and the Awami League government is committed to providing better living conditions for the most populous city of the country with a proper transport service. The latest transportation crisis over ‘seating service’ in the capital forces us to write on the thorny matter. After negotiations between the government and trade unions, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), decided to stop its drive against buses overcharging in the name of “seating service” for 15 days, but these buses would comply with BRTA fare charts.

The BRTA said it has taken this decision considering the troubles of the female passengers as well as the children have gone through over the last couple of days. But before implementing the drive, the government and concerned authorities should have forecast the possibility of this reaction on the part of the transport owners, and arranged precautions against a shortage of public transport on the roads.

Travelers have expressed their worries over the continuing BRTA drive to stop private buses from providing illegal seating services or gate-locked services, saying the rogue routes could resume anytime.

The commuters criticized that the ban on ‘siting service’ was nothing but a trick by the leaders of transport owners and workers to maximize their profits, as those who previously ran such services are still charging passengers the seating service fares even though they apparently discontinued the service.

Although the move was significant for protecting the passengers’ rights, mistakes and mismanagement by the authorities concerned were prompting people to raise questions about its effectiveness. The harassing of passengers is on the rise with the service being stopped. The seating service is far better than riding in an overcrowded bus with the same fare.

Mass people said if the authorities fail to implement the measure timely and properly, it will give the corrupt transport leaders even more chances to cheat the public. The transport owners and workers might try to hassle the passengers in a bid to justify their so-called service and to restart it.

However, public transport is the only means of travel for the majority of the city residents.  Besides the citizens of our country bound to buy private cars due to lack of adequate facility for public transport. Despite the rapid growth of motorized traffic in Dhaka, non-motorized transport still remains the dominant mode for the city dwellers who are mostly middle and low income groups.

Furthermore, as city dwellers are highly dependent on buses, a common scenario is that buses are severely crowded with passengers and travelers are forced to hang out of the door frames in the most risky situation, which are significant safety threats to passengers as well as buses.

Bus stops are badly located and routes are not advertised leading to confusion on the part of the users.  Waiting areas for rickshaws and Baby Taxis are not properly located or designed leading to these vehicles standing on the traffic lanes.  The interfaces between different sub-modes are poorly designed with buses, rickshaws and baby taxis stopping in the same areas causing congestion and disorder.

The residents of the city had been forced to spend inordinate hours waiting on roads in the vain hope of struggling to get on overcrowded buses. In the midst of all this chaos, we were greeted by reports of the minister for Roads and Bridges expressing his helplessness to resolve the situation.

The world’s first underground railway was built in London to relieve traffic congestion. It has never been a policy in London to replace one form of transport with another without creating an alternative. Although more buses have been introduced on London roads they cannot move as easily as taxis, commercial vehicles, or cars. Hence, bus lanes have been introduced wherever possible. Traffic management, more appropriately mismanagement, could be the hardest riddle even for the best of the traffic experts.

Our question to the transport authority is, why not views and comments from relevant experts including city commuters, businessmen and civil society before taking a final decision?

Meeting the demand for transportation systems in the city immediately and in the future will rely heavily on public transport. This report has recommended a bus-based rapid transit system as the backbone of the service running with priorities on the primary roads together with a series of secondary systems.

To a very great extent, the provision of public transport services is in the hands of the private sector.  Private operators with a few notable exceptions control stage carriage bus services, rickshaws, baby taxis and river ferry services.

Alternative public transport systems, such as Underground Metro and Tramways or Light Railways, should be introduced in every divisional city. Without making adequate provisions, it will never be possible to give priority to non-motorized vehicles. Traffic congestion will increase if more and more motorized vehicles share the same lane of a main road with non-motorized vehicles.

We must look at Mass Transit systems in other highly populated cities in the world where infrastructures are very similar to ours. More attention should be given to public transport than to the transport for VIPs (Very Important Persons). It is very sad to hear that responsible people in our country call a major road VIP road.

However, the root of the problem remains the presence of people in government who hold powerful sets in ministries and are at the same time union leaders. There is fight of interest and if we are even remotely interested in recovering the transport sector from the rule of syndicates, then this requires the government to take steps against these vested elements within its ranks.

Due to the unpreparedness on the part of the authorities, it is the regular people who are facing the harsh consequences. The authorities must look into the issue immediately.

The writer is a postgraduate student from University of Dhaka.