Untangling Dhaka’s Traffic Knot

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The economic losses of traffic congestion in Dhaka and the changes needed to fix the problem.


Dhaka City has a long history of traffic jams. Estimations from 2022 suggest that more than 530 new vehicles are added to Dhaka traffic every day. Add to that the influx of people from rural areas seeking better opportunities in the capital city, lack of effective road infrastructure, and a complete disregard for traffic laws, Dhaka has made its way to the top of the list of ‘slowest cities in the world’.

Over the past 15 years, Dhaka’s average traffic speed dropped from 21 kph to 7 kph. According to a study conducted by BRAC Bank, traffic jams waste around 5 million work hours every day. In terms of money, it equates to a loss of over USD 11.4 billion per year. So, it is the expense of lost time in traffic as well as the cost of operating automobiles for extended hours. Dhaka’s current average traffic speed is 6.4 kph. However, if automobile expansion continues at its current rate, without significant public transportation investment, the average speed might plummet to 4.7 kph by 2035 – roughly the speed of walking.

Dhaka’s current traffic congestion is caused by two key factors: a lack of planning and preparation during previous decades, and an over-reliance on cars due to a defective public transportation infrastructure. Despite the fact that there are 33 times more vehicles than buses in the city, cars account for only 13% of passenger transportation, while buses account for 49%.

According to reports published by national daily newspapers, traffic delays cause Bangladesh to lose 6% to 10% of its GDP, with Dhaka traffic congestion accounting for 2.9% of this loss. According to the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) Accident Research Institute (ARI), traffic bottlenecks in Dhaka lost approximately 5 million working hours in 2018, costing the country’s economy USD 4.35 billion yearly. The cost rose to USD 6.5 billion in 2020. According to another study by the BRAC Institute of Government and Development, the annual loss of Bangladesh due to traffic delays in 2018 was USD 11.4 billion taking into account the operating costs of lost time. According to the ARI study, in 2020, lost working hours, excess fuel consumption, accidents during peak hours, and environmental impact totalled a loss of BDT 153 crore per day, equating to approximately BDT 56,000 crore annually. Traffic congestion alone results in 19 million working hours lost every day, worth BDT 137 crore.

People take longer to go from one location to another due to traffic jams, so completing various jobs takes longer than necessary. If this time hadn’t been squandered in traffic, it may have been spent doing anything else that would have enhanced their overall output. Furthermore, being stuck in congestion for an extended period of time diminishes the lifetime of vehicle parts and raises vehicle operating costs. Additionally, because car engines are kept idling most of the time, approximately 40% of the gasoline is consumed while vehicles are at a standstill, and its estimated loss amounts to approximately BDT 4.2 crore.

Traffic congestion also raises the cost of logistics. Goods are transported slower than usual impacting everything from domestic trade to export-import. Furthermore, as a result of traffic congestion, the cost of delivering goods rises due to factors such as time and fuel. Various delivery-based services, courier services, and e-commerce are suffering as a result of traffic congestion in Dhaka and other major cities in the country.

To mitigate rising traffic congestion, the government has undertaken megaprojects such as Dhaka Metro Rail, Dhaka Elevated Expressway, and numerous flyovers. However, these projects, particularly the elevated expressway have shown chokepoints that are seemingly adding to the congestion than solving it. Architects and urban planners have also commented on the necessity of pedestrian-centric infrastructure to complement the metro rail in order to fully take the stress away from traffic congestion. However as these projects have not yet been fully completed, it is difficult to comment on their effectiveness without gathering more data.


Dhaka’s current traffic congestion is caused by two key factors: a lack of planning and preparation during previous decades, and an over-reliance on cars due to a defective public transportation infrastructure.


Nonetheless, experts have suggested guidelines that could create long-term, feasible solutions. The first suggestion is to introduce more double-decker buses. In August 2018, The Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) inked a contract with Ashok Leyland of India. The agreement calls for India to purchase 300 double-deckers for Bangladesh within eight months. As an alternative, these might be assembled in Bangladesh from the six to eight well-established bus manufacturing plants that could construct the buses. However, this would require further training of engineers and technicians to ensure compliance with all vehicle manufacturing codes. Even if six businesses are granted assembly licenses, Dhaka can have 288 double-decker buses in two years.

The second suggestion calls for increased monitoring of traffic rules. The biggest challenge here is to convince all parties to change behavioural patterns on the road. Breaking traffic laws has evolved into a social issue in Bangladesh and in order to restore normalcy to the situation, authorities can implement awareness initiatives such as safe driving, traffic management week, and putting up signs that visually remind drivers to comply with traffic laws. By regulating traffic systems and raising public awareness, at least 40% of traffic jams may be avoided.

To further encourage people to follow the rules of the road, a third suggestion is to adopt lengthier traffic weeks. The purpose of traffic weeks should be more than educating drivers; vehicle owners and pedestrians should be educated on traffic laws as well. Pedestrians would have to be taught not to jaywalk and when and how to cross streets using designated zebra crossings. At the same time, drivers would be given verbal warnings if they stopped over zebra crossings. Traffic weeks would also educate rickshaw pullers about the benefits of riding in single lanes and parking in rows or columns.

A fourth, and rather drastic suggestion was to completely eradicate illegal parking zones. Parking in Dhaka is complicated as buildings do not come equipped with adequate parking spaces. The Dhaka Metropolitan Police has made various attempts to combat unlawful parking such as installing wheel locks and towing cars away, but this has created further scope of malpractice as vehicle owners would rather pay off the books than deal with court proceedings for traffic violations. Additionally, the Capital Development Authority also has some accountability as most commercial buildings are allowed to operate without providing parking facilities, but are not being fined for failing to comply with this requirement.

Dhaka’s traffic challenges won’t vanish overnight; they require gradual changes. People need to learn and follow traffic rules, while business owners should offer more parking spaces. The city’s road infrastructure needs better planning, and we must make it easier for pedestrians to get around. Additionally, everyone should have a better understanding of traffic laws. The ultimate goal is for everyone to realize that by obeying traffic rules, we can ease Dhaka’s traffic congestion and get it moving smoothly once more.

 

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