- Mayor recently proposed extra tax for driving vehicles in affluent areas
- Urban experts say without improving services, the move may intensify traffic congestion
- 30,000 buses of 2,500 companies run in 291 routes in Dhaka
- Total registered vehicles in the capital is 17,13,554
A number of mega projects, including metrorail, are underway to reduce traffic congestion in Dhaka, but the city authorities are still in doubt whether the implementation of the projects will at all be fruitful.
Recently Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Mayor Atiqul Islam suggested imposing extra tax on cars in some particular areas in the capital in order to reduce traffic congestion.
However, urban planners and local government experts say that charging such fees instead of providing adequate sidewalks on the roads, parking spaces and planned public transport services will not reduce traffic congestion but increase it. The local government may impose such a tax to provide civic benefits, but there will be no benefit unless it is planned comprehensively through considering all aspects of the situation.
On 25 September, DNCC Mayor Atiqul Islam said at an event that the number of private vehicles has increased in elite areas like Gulshan and Baridhara in the capital. Additional taxes have to be paid to drive cars in these areas.
The mayor said an overwhelming number of cars have flooded the streets of the capital. Each member of a family has a different car. "We have planned to introduce an extra charge for driving through the capital's elite areas. Abroad, extra charge is taken if a private car enters different roads," he said.
He said that the DNCC will implement the matter after counting the cars through a survey on the streets of these elite areas.
However, Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP) General Secretary Professor Dr Adil Muhammad Khan told The Business Standard, "In city planning, imposing conditional charges on the transport sector is nothing new, but it requires a specific plan."
The city planner observed that if conditional tax is applied in separate places in Dhaka, no benefit will be obtained. In order to do this, at first a survey has to be conducted across the whole city to get an idea of what kind of measures can be taken in which areas. The main objective will be reducing the use of private cars. In order to reduce the number of private cars on the roads, adequate public transport, footpaths and parking spaces as well as other services have to be ensured in those areas.
According to the Dhaka Transport Coordinating Authority (DTCA), around 30,000 buses of about 2,500 companies operate on 291 routes in the capital.
According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), as of 31 August, 2021, the number of vehicles registered in the capital was 17,13,554. Of these, 849,335 are motorcycles, which is 49% of the total number of vehicles. As many as 308,860 private cars have been registered, which is 18% of all vehicles, while the number of registered buses is 36,978 or 2% of the total number of vehicles.
The total number of vehicles registered in Dhaka in 2010 was 593,077. The figure has increased to over 17 lakh at present. During this time, among the total registered vehicles, the number of private vehicles has increased by more than 67% while the number of buses has increased by only 2%.
Traffic congestion in the capital has steadily been worsening owing to the growing number of vehicles on city streets.
Hundreds of thousands of working hours are being wasted due to the long unending traffic jams, resulting in financial losses worth several thousand crores of taka.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 10% of the country's population live in and around Dhaka. Due to increasing demand, the number of private cars has also been going up. The number of vehicles registered for traffic in the capital has more than tripled in the last 10 years.
According to international standards, a maximum of 216,000 vehicles can ply on the roads of the capital. But at present, the number of vehicles plying on the city streets is more than eight times that number. The speed of vehicles on the roads of Dhaka is less than seven kilometers per hour.
In reply to a query on the extent to which city dwellers will benefit if a tax is imposed on private vehicles in elite areas, Dr Adil Muhammad Khan said, "According to local government law, the city corporation has full freedom to impose any kind of toll to keep the living standards of the city dwellers to a tolerable level. There is no legal barrier, but before making a decision we have to consider whether it will be functional in terms of application. If the decision is made without changing the current situation, sufferings will increase instead of decreasing."
However, the DNCC mayor has said that parking spaces will be increased by recovering encroached sidewalks. Encroachers occupy the footpaths in different ways and pedestrians are forced to walk on the streets as they cannot do that on the sidewalks, resulting in increased traffic congestion. There are plans so that people can cycle on dedicated lanes and walk on sidewalks.
Local government expert Dr Tofail Ahmed told TBS that the BRTA is providing registration route permits for vehicles and the government is charging a tax for that. By paying that tax, vehicle owners are able to travel all over Bangladesh, paying tolls only where they are required. "The city corporation cannot impose a tax in Gulshan-Banani without proving something special. If you want to collect tax, you must give service accordingly", he said.
He wondered if imposing an additional tax will reduce traffic congestion. In his view, it will worsen traffic congestion. If there is any other measure to reduce traffic congestion, it should be done. But it is not possible to reduce traffic congestion by fixing taxes. It is not a sustainable system. Public transport services must be increased to reduce the pressure of private cars on the streets. Arrangements can be made for these vehicles not to ply at any time other than a specified time on a special road.
Experts have also said that in order to impose an additional tax on cars, an automatic mechanical system has to be introduced. Otherwise there will be no benefit; rather traffic congestion will increase further. Recognised methods that are available abroad can be applied. For this, a car policy has to be made for every family living and traveling in the elite areas of the capital so that a family cannot use more than one car.
They have also suggested that an extra tax can be collected if a family uses more than one car.