Although only 87,495 rickshaws and rickshaw-vans have licenses, around 12 lakh non-motorised three-wheelers are plying the city roads illegally under syndicates creating traffic congestions all around.
Urban planners and transport experts said that it was not the rickshaws but a huge number of illegal rickshaws and the authority's failure to manage them were the main causes of anarchy in the capital’s transport network.
Jahangirnagar University urban planning professor Adil Mohammad Khan said that considering the socio-economic condition, the rickshaw was an important mode of transport for Dhaka residents until the government could ensure public transports available for commuters and pedestrian-friendly footpaths.
‘Authorities decision of make the main city roads off-limits to rickshaws is unrealistic which is already causing huge public sufferings,’ he said.
Rickshaws should have a dedicated lane for safety but banning them by bringing a false accusation that they caused traffic jams in the city was unrealistic, he said.
Dhaka South city mayor Mohammad Sayeed Khokon, on July 03, declared three city roads — one that runs from Kuril to Sayedabad via Rampura and Khilgaon, another from Gabtoli to Azimpur via Asad Gate and the other from the Science Laboratory crossing to the Shahbagh crossing — off-limits to rickshaws from July 7.
The decision was imposed without considering the measures of rehabilitation. The city authority also did not think of alternative transports for passengers.
The mayor said that rickshaws could not be allowed on Dhaka roads as such slow-moving vehicles triggered traffic jams.
The mayor, also convener of the traffic jam management committee of the government, said that people should walk short distance to keep in good shape.
Supporting the decision, Dhaka North City mayor Md Atiqul Islam, however, claimed that the ban would neither hamper the livelihood of the rickshaw pullers, nor affect the passengers as rickshaws would be allowed on other roads and passengers could avail public buses as an alternative.
He said that the city would be made rickshaw-free gradually as the non-motorised vehicles would not be allowed alongside motorised vehicles in the densely populated capital.
The rickshaw pullers protested the decision by blocking Kuril-Sayedabad road as the police began to implement the decision causing the city dwellers to reel under the flailing transport network for two consecutive days.
While debates among the city people proliferated, city people experienced a sharp hike in rickshaw fair.
Urban planners, whose recommendation have rarely been taken into official consideration, are of the opinion that the presence of rickshaws was not the main cause of traffic jam in Dhaka while parking on the roads and rising number of private cars were major causes behind traffic jams.
Bangladesh Institute of Planners’ vice-president Professor Akter Mahmud said that in all transport plan, pedestrians were given first priority but government hardly did anything to give priority to them.
Before addressing the prime reasons including unplanned roads, private cars, and poor management, rickshaw ban would increase public sufferings as Dhaka lacks an extensive public transport system and has limited walkways.
The authority should evict illegal structures from footpaths, control private cars and increase public bus first, experts unanimously said.
They wondered what would be the outcome of the rickshaw ban, which was likely to hit hard the livelihood of thousands of people, if it did not even solve the problem of gridlocks on the roads!
Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust programme manager Maruf Hossain said that the government shouldn’t ban rickshaws as it created employment opportunities for several lakhs people and facilitated one crore and 38 lakhs trips out of 3.5 crore.
He said that the government should control the plying of private cars on Dhaka roads first as they polluted the environment by emitting carbon and creating jams by hogging the most per capita space on the roads and even when they remained parked.
‘In absence of rickshaws on the city roads, number of cars would shoot up, paving the way for the production of more carbon gases,’ they said, arguing that around 5,000 tonnes more carbon would be emitted daily to meet the transport demand to cover the trips previously taken by rickshaws.
The campaigner said that globally non-motorised vehicles were now being encouraged as opposed to motorised vehicles over environmental concerns.
Maruf is against banning rickshaws and said that the rickshaw was the highest used public transport.
He demanded an integrated public transport allowing suitable mode transports.
People belonging to different income groups used rickshaws in the city as 35 per cent high-income group, 42 per cent middle-income people and 37 per cent low-income people used rickshaw for short distance travel, he said.
Rickshaws were mostly used to travel to the schools as 42 per cent rickshaw trips were for reaching the schools while 27 per cent to travel to the workplaces and around 39 per cent for others.
Citing Bangladesh Road Transport Authority statistics he said that everyday 50 new private cars were added to the existing number of cars in the city, following the rickshaw ban, the number would even go higher.
‘The increasing in number of private cars will create more intense traffic jams in the city,’ he said.
He asked the authority to evict all the illegal rickshaws from the roads and to allow adequate numbers of rickshaws under a proper management.
‘Control the number of rickshaws and private cars on the city roads considering the road capacity and public demand,’ he said.
Considering risks of accident, government should create a separate lane for the three-wheelers which would also not hamper the speed of motorised vehicles, he said.
He also argued that rickshaw will see a gradual reduction if sufficient alternative vehicles could be made available.
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