Rickshaws: Silent enemy of city life

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Though it was easy to eliminate the once gentlemanly transport of pony carriages, yet it is a hard task to extract rickshaws extempore from the city-dwellers as the mode of transport has become an integral element and cherished habit of Dhaka city life. The city dwellers relish the rickshaw-riding on Dhaka streets for the shortest of distances and to reach right at the door step of the destination. As the other modes of transport are either in for rush e.g. Bus, minibus, double deckers, metro service etc. or costly e.g. taxicab etc. So the children, the women, and the old cannot go anywhere without rickshaws. Rickshaws often by their leisurely rides give a subtle pleasure to people as a ride in a private car does. How unethical and inhuman it is riding a ricksaw when an adolescent or an old man pulls that by the sweat of his brow! The rickshaw-spawning is now out of control as it offers self-employment to a large number of people. Many under-employed people in Dhaka city also eke out their scanty income by pulling rickshaws either in the day or evening. The increase in use of this plodding mode of transport is now a threat to city life. It has turned into a noiseless enemy of the smooth management of the traffic system.

Dhaka was once known as the city of mosques. Today it is a city of rickshaws. Nobody knows the exact number of rickshaws in Dhaka city. There are 79500 licensed rickshaws, but the real number could be even a million. Why do rickshaws thrive in Dhaka city? As most of the governments had hardly any programme for employment generation so unemployment is an aggravated problem in our country. Bangladesh is mainly an agricultural country. Most of the cultivation of the century still depend on old and back dated methods. Moreover, natural calamities like floods, cyclone and drought destroy the agriculture of the country every year, consequently farmers can hardly make both ends meet. These needy people from distant villages come to the capital city to earn their livelihood easily and take their shelter in the different slums. Most of them become rickshaw pullers. So to speak, the more slums, the more rickshaws. Activists of different political parties allegedly patronize them in this regard. The activists have a few thousand rickshaws in the name of different organizations, it is learnt from reliable sources. Else, a vested circle prepares forged seals for number plate in the name of Dhaka City Corporation in lieu of money. Besides, a good number of rickshaws hold duplicate numbers while others are without number. The above two reasons cause the official number of rickshaws not to exceed a lakh mark. This is known to traffic police and they allow it as their hands are always greased. The number of motor vehicles is not commensurate with the galloping need of this growing city. A study reveals that there are three motor vehicles for one thousand people in Bangladesh which is negligible as compared with other developing countries. There are a number of areas such as Khilgaon, Basabo, Mugda etc. where there is no bus service. In these areas, the city dwellers are compelled to use rickshaws as the main mode of transport. Political parties also back up rickshaw pullers as they get ready supply of manpower for programmes of protest and demonstration.

Today Dhaka is an over populated city. Every day a large number of people from the villages come to this city in quest of odd jobs as they think that the city holds for them jobs and opportunities. Rickshaws offer them employment and slums give shelters. At present, many NGOs by creating labour intensive small scale industries are trying to solve unemployment problem in the slum areas of the city. Why do NGOs work in the city slums? NGOs should set up these pilot plants in villages. If such enterprises could be set up in the villages, I think that huge migration of village people into the city may reduce, at least to some extent. In this content, NGOs require backing of village people.

Extensive cultivation with scientific agrarian reforms are essential for agronomy. It will also reduce the number of migrant workers from the villages in the lean season between harvests. The number of rickshaws can be regulated by strictly regulating its places of manufacture.

Today we all believe rickshaws by their leisurely rides in the midst of traffic seriously impede flow of traffic and cause unbearable traffic jam. Rickshaw pullers aggravate traffic chaos on Dhaka streets by wriggling in and out of the flow of traffic, intercepting it and sometimes by crossing through it in the opposite direction. Three wheel scooters are next on the list of jam-makers and then the mini-buses. The minibuses block up normal flow of traffic to take their fill of gathering commuters and casual riders. Apart from these reasons, the other contributory factors that aggravate traffic jam may be unveiled here.

At a roundtable discussion on “Law and order and traffic system in Dhaka city: Problems and remedies organized by Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), about the existing traffic congestion in the city Home Minister Rafiqul Islam said “we are facing the problem for unplanned expansion of the capital in the post”. A city should have roads of 25 percent of its total area. In Dhaka. 8 percent area is said to be roads, but in fact the road area will not be more than 5 percent of the total area” he added. I think he has just echoed the words of Professor Zamilur Reza Chowdhury of Bangladesh Engineering University (BUET) who participated in a discussion on the same topic last year. There are about 200km metalled roads in Dhaka city which may be 8 percent of the total area of the city where as planned cities such as New York, Dallas, London etc. have roads between 20 and 30 percent of their respective total areas. Even Delhi has roads of 25 percent of its total area. Now it is nearly impossible to make new roads in this congested city. Flyovers and underground transports are essential in order to reduce pressure on existing roads.

Another devilish aspect of traffic jams relates to parking of motor vehicles, rickshaws at random. Most of the shopping centres of Dhaka city don’t have parking lots of their own due to unplanned urbanization, the entire city roads are one big parking zone for the vehicles. Parking of both slow moving and high speed vehicles at random, especially at the corner of the squares reduces usable road space. Traffic police should restrict parking in streets between 9 AM and 6 PM. The owner driver or the chauffeur of the badly parked motor vehicle should get a parking ticket.

“The footpaths are never left alone for people to walk. They are expropriated by street vendors. House builders and shopkeepers use the footpaths for storage of materials and for setting up temporary workshops, there are the lamp posts, the smell of refuse, the odd sign posts, the junction boxes of telephone lines, the transformer erections of power lines and other hurdles which occupy the entire breadth of the footpath excepting the narrow edge. Hence the pedestrians are forced off the footpath right into the stream of traffic on the road, thereby reducing the passage for vehicles. The eviction of illegal occupants from footpaths essential to pedestrians. There is no coordination between the planning of different public sectors. The same roads have been excavated several times by T and T, WASA and PWD etc. and very often they are not repaired properly. This also reduces the passage for vehicles.

The enormity of the problems of traffic chaos and irregularities has been increasing day by day for the inefficient management of traffic. But the traffic police claim that the management and control of rickshaws is a heavy work as the rickshaw pullers are mostly ignorant of traffic rules and do not obey them. Because of this heavy pressure they cannot give attention to the control of other modes of transport.

Many argue that the police are not immune to human frailties, which may also be an influence on the overall traffic cancer in Dhaka City. In this connection, I once talked with a traffic police man who was an acquaintance of mine. He acknowledged a little of this calumniation against them and commented that it was a peccadillo. After deployment of the Army, BDR, for traffic management in few roads, people has got just a little relief from traffic jam. Which also alludes to the inefficiency of traffic police administration. All hold that the traffic management is not possible unless police is made to discharge duties with sincerity, honesty, and commitment. Traffic police from now onward should take an oath and have firm determination to give proper service to traffic system. As there is no traffic police in many traffic points in the city, they should increase point’s duty in points sensitive to traffic jam. It is heartening that government has been taking serious steps to find stable solution of traffic-jam.

Rickshaws are no more ecologically friendly. Rickshaws themselves do not produce air pollutants. But they intensify the pollution. The environment pollution is mainly caused by rickshaws as they block smooth flow of traffic, which is then slowed down by five times the usual speed during when extra carbon dioxide emission pollutes the air. This phenomenon is continuously changing the ecology of the city. The tempos and scooters are direct contributors to greenhouse gases. So it is essential to eliminate three-wheel scooters to stop their dangerous ecological effects. The total elimination of rickshaws is not possible now. Now raickshaws cater to 75 percent of the transport need of city dwellers. Moreover, supposedly five million people of the families of rickshaw pullers, are dependent on half a million rickshaw pullers for their subsistence. But rickshaws occupy about 85 percent road space in the absence of any rickshaw stands in the city. So there must be a plan to eliminate rickshaws in phases. Before elimination of rickshaws, the city needs an efficient bus service. The main mode of transport should be air-conditioned double deckers and big buses. The rest of the path between the bus-stop and the door-step should be walked to. Above all, it is essential to excogitate on the sufferings of rickshaw pullers prior to rickshaws’ elimination from Dhaka streets. In this context, an ingenious method will be needed. It will be unethical to jettison rickshaws from the streets to reduce the heavy pressure on traffic system as men pull them like bullock carts. So the government should have contrivance to rehabilitate the rickshaw pullers in other productive sectors. Everyone should have contrition for the unplanned growth of the city in the past and come forward to solve the problem.

The Dhaka City Corporation (DCC), Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC), Home Ministry, private companies and some individuals and transport association are involved in the traffic management. If excellent coordination among these agencies could be established, I think the city dwellers will no longer have to suffer from this unbearable traffic jam.