Rickshaw restrictions: is it justified?

Nafiul Alam Shupto | Updated at 02:31pm on July 21, 2019

images

Rickshaws crowd a road next to New Market in the city. —Ali Hossain Mintu

­Dhaka city authorities have recently banned rickshaw on three routes. Social bodies and netizens have expressed dissatisfaction about the decision. Imposing restrictions over rickshaws can never be a solution. The authorities should never implement a plan which benefits only a particular group of people as rickshaw has historical, cultural, environmental and economic significance, writes Nafiul Alam Shupto

RECENTLY the city authorities have banned the three-wheelers, on specific routes, generally pulled by men in a bid to ease traffic congestion, promising alternatives to ensure that the passengers get some mode of transport.

The streets out of bounds for rickshaws are from Gabtoli to Azimpur via Asad Gate, from Science Lab crossing to Shahbagh through Bata intersection and from Kuril to Syedabad bus terminal through Badda, Rampura and Khilgaon.

It is estimated that nearly 1.5 million rickshaw pullers of Dhaka city and their family members are dependent on this profession. This sudden decision by the city corporations to ban rickshaws on the said routes may turn out to be a nightmare for some rickshaw-pullers as a section of them may end up with less earning at the end of the day.

Rickshaw is the most popular and widely used transport throughout Bangladesh. Historically rickshaw has great significance. Dhaka adopted rickshaw from Calcutta, where it was first introduced around 1930. European jute exporters living in Narayanganj and Netrokona (greater Mymensingh) had first imported cycle rickshaw from Calcutta in 1938 for their personal use. The Dhaka city had only 37 rickshaws in 1941 and 181 rickshaws in 1947.

The undivided Dhaka City Corporation (DCC), the only rickshaw licensing authority, issued 79,554 rickshaw licenses which stopped in 1986. But, nowadays, in Dhaka city, the actual number of rickshaws is estimated to be 1.1 million. In this city, 60 per cent of the residents use rickshaw for commuting. Consequently, the sector currently employs a large number of unskilled labours as it is characterised by small investment, easy entry, cash income, no special skill needed, available everywhere and simple rules of engagement.

In Dhaka, the popularity of rickshaw far exceeds than that of all other modes of transport. The size of the middle-class is expanding in Dhaka and so is the number of passengers using rickshaws. As a result, rickshaws have emerged as one of the most common and popular transports for the people of Dhaka.

One of the reasons why rickshaws are so convenient for the metropolis dwellers is that Dhaka lacks proper infrastructure to take a walk for short distance commuting. Footpaths are occupied by hawkers and are often strewn with garbage, making it extremely hard for people to use the footpaths which should ideally be free for pedestrian. Then there is lack of adequate public transport. These are just some of the many reasons why middle income urban people prefer rickshaw over any other transports.

However, it is blamed for traffic jam in Dhaka city. It is only because of this, instead of development of the rickshaw sector, the overall policy is to phase out rickshaw from Dhaka city.

It is observed that annually 17,059 private cars were getting registration by Bangladesh Road Transport Authority offices in Dhaka. In that rate, the government agency issued registration to 283,617 private cars from 1990 to May 2019.

Officials said that the BRTA issued registration to 6,476 private cars in first five months of this year. The above figures segue well with the condition on roads — Dhaka traffic consists mostly of private cars. For more than 1.5 crore people, there are around 8,000 public buses and 283,617 private cars in Dhaka.

These cars are one of the main reasons behind traffic congestion in the capital because private cars oftentimes carry only one passenger but take up 2.5 times more space than a rickshaw. Moreover, a private car occupies a lot of space when it is parked on the streets while rickshaws remain on the move most of the time.

At least 3.5 million trips are made on Dhaka streets a day with rickshaws accounting for 40 percent of them. If we keep driving out rickshaws without providing any viable substitute, it will only increase the sufferings of the people and certainly spike up people’s transport expenditures too. Hence, until the number of private car is controlled and further suitable public transport system is administered, rickshaw ban would seem meaningless.

Legal status of rickshaws

THE rickshaw pullers are plying those vehicles from beyond memorable time and considering the role of rickshaws in the communication sector the authority should take some necessary steps but unfortunately the lawmakers failed to observe the necessity of manual vehicles and intentionally tried to reduce the numbers of rickshaw in Dhaka city as well as the whole country.

It is very unfortunate of having no rules or act in existence.

Even for definition, according to The Dhaka City Corporation Ordinance, 1983 ie 2(42) ‘vehicle’ means wheeled convenience capable of being used on a street which is not only incomplete but doesn’t at all describe a rickshaw or van.

Under the Dacca (Dhaka) Municipal Ordinance the then Dacca pourasabha was the only authority to form necessary rules and regulations regarding management and regulation of the van-rickshaws and the commissioner formed a bye-laws namely Traffic Control & Public Vehicles Bye-Laws on July 10,1973.

After a minute scrutiny of the said bye-laws it is found that the same is neither providing any rules for issuing license to the rickshaw pullers nor any rights for rickshaw pullers that can be legally claimed.

There are more than one million unlicensed rickshaws operating in the streets of Dhaka city. Strategies adopted by the garage owners in this regard are — have few genuine licenses on rent and have tickets (compelled to) in exchange of regular subscription from different organisations having connection with power structure but no legally.

Rickshaw pullers know these tickets as rickshaw license. Nearly half of the garage owners never visited DCC for any purpose. The rest half visited DCC mainly for the purpose of license but received nothing. So many rickshaw pullers individually or under some societies or federation submitted hundreds of applications by following the process instructed by the city authority for licenses in last couple of decades but the authority neither allowed nor rejected those applications in last 27 years and due to no proper rules the van-rickshaw pullers could not take any legal actions against the said arbitrary actions.

Also there is no provision for providing driving license to the rickshaw pullers. However, to obtain licences somewhat basic knowledge about traffic rules is essential for plying rickshaw on the city streets like Dhaka. Rickshaw pullers should be provided with driving license upon successful test on basic skills of rickshaw pulling and knowledge about traffic rules and other relevant subjects.

It can be said that imposing restrictions over rickshaws can never be the solution. The authority should never implement a plan which benefits only a particular group of people. Rickshaw has historical, cultural, environmental and economic significance.

Rather than putting restrictions on rickshaw, implementing specific provisions regarding the rickshaw sector and educating the group of individuals can bring light in broader spheres. Lack of legal guidelines and biasness of the authority has already put the group of individuals in the backward.

Therefore to fit the middle class demands and protecting the occupational rights of thousands of rickshaw pullers, the authority should rethink about the consequences of such restrictions.

Nafiul Alam Shupto is a student of North South University.