Why is our public transport in decline?
A planned public transport system is not only the best way to ease traffic congestion and ensure safer roads, but can also contribute to reducing energy consumption, decreasing air pollution and fighting climate change. Across the world, experts continue to advocate for the use of public transport as a strategy to improve public health, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and create a more functional society.
Yet, in Bangladesh, we are witnessing a sharp decline in the numbers of buses and minibuses. What's even more worrying is that, according to the data from Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), the number of private cars and microbuses have started to increase again this year. Only 1,075 buses and 220 minibuses have been registered so far this year, as opposed to 9,470 cars and a whopping 198,000 motorcycles. This is despite the fact that small vehicles, including motorcycles, have routinely been identified by road safety advocates as one of the major causes of accidents—which have gone up by 40 percent in the first seven months of this year, compared to the same period last year.
Why is Bangladesh taking this backward step, when most countries in the world are moving towards public transport-oriented commuting systems? According to experts, a lack of coordinated planning and policies is the main reason behind this state of affairs. Past decisions taken by the authorities—such as reduction of motorcycle registration fees, and the provision for easy car loans—have contributed towards the situation as well. We are confused as to why such incentives are being provided towards private transport, while the route permits for buses have been suspended for a long time, when all the data suggests that a greater use of public transport and footpaths would be the most beneficial for Bangladeshi citizens—both in terms of efficiency and affordability.
As there is little scope for increasing road space in the capital, we urge our policymakers to prioritise planned public transport instead. Experts have suggested revamping the BRTC bus service, introducing bus franchise systems, and prioritising the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) services. Most importantly, the plans for bus route rationalisation to bring Dhaka's chaotic bus operations under control must be implemented without further delay.