THE making of three city road stretches off-limits to rickshaws and rickshaw-vans, which came into force on July 7 based on a July 3 decision of a committee that the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority set up in June to ease traffic congestion, prompted rickshaw pullers and owners to hold protests, which intensified on Tuesday with the pullers having blocked the longest of the road stretches, from Kuril to Sayedabad via Rampur and Khilgaon, straining the traffic system that inconvenienced passengers along the stretch spanning 12 kilometres. The restrictions at hand before Tuesday allowed rickshaws to cross the primary roads, from the Science Laboratory crossing to the Shahbagh crossing and from Gabtali to Azimpur via Asad Gate, but largely stopped rickshaws and even school vans from crossing the primary road along the Kuril-Sayedabad stretch. After the large-scale protests on Tuesday, the pullers are reported to have run on Wednesday on all the primary roads that fall under the purview of the restrictions but in a limited number. The authorities appear to have been lenient to and the pullers wary about the issue. But the problems on the ground have remained unresolved in the absence of any concrete measures that the authorities should put in place.
The decision to make roads off-limits to rickshaws is reflective of a poorly-though-out plan. Rickshaws, which do contribute to traffic congestion, are not largely blamed as a major reason while an increased number of privately owned cars are, especially in view of road space occupancy. Of about 21 million daily trips in the capital city, 5 per cent are carried out, as a World Bank transport specialist in July 2014 said, by cars that occupy 80 per cent of the road space; 28 per cent of the trips are carried out by buses that occupy about 5 per cent of road spaces and 58 per cent are made by walking, bicycling or rickshaw-riding, which is the prime among the three and is not given the required road space. The number of daily trips is now said to have increased to 30 million, but the road space occupancy should remain almost the same, calling out the authorities on immediately controlling privately owned cars. The situation has further been compounded by illegal parking of the cars that the authorities should urgently look into. The statistics also suggest that there is a dire need for more public transport, buses in most cases, as they can effectively handle a large number of trips occupying less road space. This has unfortunately been a perennial problem that government has failed to address. Besides, the lanes and by-lanes that open onto primary roads are mostly not interconnected, which holds passengers from riding rickshaws through lanes to get to short but not walkable distance. Such needs are an everyday phenomenon in dropping at and picking up children from schools, taking the elderly or ailing people to hospital, carrying heavy buys from kitchen markets and taking household articles to repair shops.
As long as the city authorities and others concerned do not attend to such structural problems, it would be unwise to make roads off-limits to rickshaws as it is only passengers and pullers who would come to be harmed. The government, in such a situation, must arrest the number of privately owned cars on the road, stop their illegal parking, which has continued to be a major transport administration failure, take illegal rickshaws off the road, allocate commensurate road spaces for rickshaws and rickshaw vans and create separate lanes for rickshaws along primary roads.
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