Stricter traffic police, law abiding citizens behaving themselves on the roads, careful steps, and cautious drivers – as everything was seemingly going right after the students’ protest for road safety, it did not take long for us to fall into the self-repeating loop of chaos on the roads. Blood-hungry streets of Bangladesh have resumed its killing spree as 259 people were reportedly killed during the Eid-ul-Azha vacation. Meanwhile, the government insisting that it has done everything to meet the demands of the students. Nahid Riyasad reflects on the aspects of the apparent show of civility on the roads.
On Sunday, September 2, a campaign started in Rangpur — No helmet, no fuel. Following the trail, Dhaka and Barisal announced the same programme. Under this, no motor-bike rider will be supplied fuel for their vehicle from the petrol pumps, if they are riding without a helmet. Social media has been swarmed with posts of people making long queues for footbridges in Uttara and Mirpur. Last month in Dhaka, one often noticed scenarios where traffic polices were diligently trying to make people obey basic traffic rules. All these are happening, one can say, as aftermath of the students’ protest for safe road. However, the question remains that with the same infrastructure, under the same system and ownership of the same set of people – how long can these changes sustain?
Latest statistics suggest, changes will not last long. On June 29, the Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh published a report and according to their report at least 339 people were killed and 1,265 injured in 277 road crashes across the country during the last Eid-ul-Fitr holidays. They published a similar report on August 31. This report revealed, at least 259 people were killed and 960 injured in 237 road accidents during this Eid-ul-Azha holidays. The number of death is lower than the last Eid holiday, still shockingly high. It contradicts the government’s any claim that changes took place. Can we really count on these changes to bring a positive metamorphosis in the entire road transport system?
A major throwback in Dhaka’s road infrastructure is that all the major roads are north to south bound, whereas, no majors roads, at this moment, are connecting east part of the city to the west. Now, a person travelling from Hazaribagh to Khilgaon, has no other choice but to get lost into the maze of roads because of no direct roads connecting east with west means, no direct bus services. Here come alternative transports like rickshaw and human haulers.
On September 4, Tuesday, Dhaka Metropolitan Police commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia in a press conference announced that no human haulers, popularly known as leguna (because the first example was made by a Chinese company named ‘Leguna’) will ply the roads of Dhaka. Legunas have gained a notorious reputation for their fitness less chassis, underage and untrained drivers and reckless driving. However, through these legunas, a large number of people commute everyday and many of them have suffered on the roads in the last few days. From Mohammadpur bus stand, thousands commute by legunas to Gulshan and Mohakhali, every day, to and forth. There are only a handful of busses on this road and now after the ban, the lack of transportation on this route is acute.
According to the August report, staggering 44 percent accidents occurred as pedestrian are unaware of the traffic safety rules. The high rate states that a major share of ordinary people are not familiar with traffic laws, nor do they possess the etiquette of commuting; even if they do, reluctance and indifference are prominent. Right after the signal goes green, one would often find people stopping the traffic to cross the road. In case of highways, risky road crossing, grazing of livestock sometimes add to the death toll. Now, the question is that, without educating the majority of the population about road commuting basics, how do we expect some quick minor initiatives would bring major changes in our road transport system?
The juxtaposition of vehicles with different speed is another grave concern for us. Many major roads in Dhaka, still, allow rickshaw to move beside motor vehicles, causing a chaotic scenario in major roads. Imagine, right after the light goes green, you cannot simply hit that gas paddle with an empty road ahead because rickshaws are in competition with your car or that bus beside you. As ridiculous as it sounds, this is our road reality.
The transport sector has become such a deadly affair is because of the unholy alliance between the transport authorities and owners. Any government effort to systematically address the problem in the sector was impeded by the transport owners and leaders of the associations. Without addressing these structural concerns, these traffic safety drives may bring momentary relief, but will not resolve the crisis in transport sector. Now, people can demand justice for an accident, and in a utopian Bangladesh, a bus driver might get the legal punishment but we should ask ourselves – is this enough to bring that major change that we are expecting?
Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth Team.
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