The residents of Chattogram city continue to suffer from gridlocks, and a lack of public transportation as the port city failed to adopt an effective traffic management system for decades.
A total of three master plans were undertaken over a period of 27 years to reform Chattogram's public transport sector, but none of those have been implemented properly.
Instead, the strategic projects were sidelined by other unplanned development activities which did nothing but mounting up the woes of 60 lakh inhabitants of the country's second largest city.
From the beginning, these projects called for the development of the public transport sector, and opposed construction of large infrastructure including flyovers but failed to get authorities' attention.
Due to traffic mismanagement, the city roads are often crippled by gridlocks. According to the traffic division of Chattogram Metropolitan Police (CMP), the average speed of vehicles in the city was 21 km/h some 12 years ago, which now stands at 5 km/h.
According to a survey of the Chittagong Strategic Urban Transport Master Plan, buses have the lowest average speed among the port city's moving vehicles.
The average speed of the bus is 13.9 km/h in the morning (4am-10am), and 10.3 km/h in the afternoon (4pm-7pm). Whereas, the average speed of private cars in the morning is 18.3 km/h but in the afternoon it stands at 10.7kmp/h.
As the number of vehicles increased over time and the construction works on the road continued, the average speed of vehicles decreased further.
Khorshedul Alam, a bank official, told The Business Standard, "It used to take 20-30 minutes to travel from the city's GEC intersection to Agrabad. Now, it often takes more than an hour due to heavy congestion."
Kafil Uddin, a store keeper at the Akhtaruzzaman Center in Agrabad area, told TBS, "Like many others, I have to wait for public transport after dusk, and it is a hurdle to get on the bus, not to mention the tailbacks. In some places, roads have become narrow due to the construction work of the elevated expressway."
According to the Chattogram City Corporation (CCC), there are 1,169 kilometers of roads in the city, of which about 150 kilometers are main roads.
The existing number of roads are inadequate for normal traffic movements. Besides, people park their cars everywhere occupying parts of the road as there is no proper parking facility.
According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), about 3,00,000 vehicles were registered in Chattogram city in 2021. Of those, 2,099 were buses, 1,52,000 motorcycles, and more than 36,000 private cars.
The Chattogram Development Authority (CDA) has built three flyovers and an overpass in the city at a cost of Tk1,000 crore. Besides, an 18-kilometer elevated expressway from Lalkhan Bazar to Patenga is still under construction at a cost of Tk4,500 crore.
The civil residents, society members and city planners have been opposing the construction of large structures such as flyovers inside the city since the beginning. However, the CDA paid no heed to the objection. A small number of people using personal cars are benefiting from these big projects.
According to a survey conducted by the Forum for Planned Chattogram- a platform promoting strategic development, public transports including buses, mini-buses and tempos do not operate on the Bahaddarhat and Lalkhan Bazar flyovers.
Besides, only 5-6% of people (car users) use these flyovers while the remaining 95% of the people do not. Experts say a flyover is needed if one lakh vehicles travel at an intersection every day. According to the traffic volume of Chattogram, no flyover was required there.
According to a 1995 Master Plan of Chattogram, two types of strategic development activities, short-term and long-term, were supposed to be adopted. The plan also included development of pavements, development of transport system through introduction of improved quality bus service.
The master plan also included forming a traffic management committee with experts and setting up a permanent strategic transport planning unit to take necessary steps for improving the city's traffic and transportation system over time.
Not only the 1995 Master Plan, but also the 2008 Detailed Area Plan (DAP) and the 2016 Strategic Transport Master Plan have talked about institutional reform, but no such step has been taken in the last 27 years.
According to a survey by the Chittagong Strategic Urban Transport Master Plan, some 6.7 million trips take place in the city daily. Around 22% of the trips are conducted by CNG auto-rickshaws and rickshaws, 25% of trips are on foot, and 10% are through privately-owned vehicles. 83% of vehicle users do not have access to privately-owned vehicles. Public transport is the main mode of transportation for 65% of the passengers.
Buses, human haulers and tempos use 43% of the total roads. Cars occupy 29% of the city's roads and only 13% of the people travel in these vehicles. In contrast, buses occupy only 17% of the road and carry 48% of the passengers. CNG auto-rickshaws and rickshaws occupy 27% percent of the roads, and only 16% of the people use these vehicles. Tempos occupy 6% of the space and carry 12% of the passengers. In addition, human haulers occupy 7% of the road and carry 10% of the passengers.
According to the statistics of the 2008 Chattogram Detailed Area Plan (DAP), a bus carrying 33 passengers occupies 33 feet of the road. But while carrying the same number of passengers, tempo occupies 66 feet of road, baby-taxi 99 feet, rickshaw 132 feet and car 462 feet. In other words, instead of 80,645 other vehicles, only 7,925 buses can be used to carry 2,61,534 passengers.
The DAP recommended to emphasise on the public transport system which includes the introduction of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for public transport, meaning creating separate lanes for buses on city roads so that people can reach their destinations quickly by bus.
Thus, people will feel comfortable commuting on the bus and avoid buying personal vehicles. Many developed countries have such a transport management system. But, no such step was taken in Chattogram.
Engineer Subhash Barua, vice-president of Forum for Planned Chittagong and a transport expert, told The Business Standard: "No attention has been paid in building a robust public transport system in Chattogram. All the plans remain on paper and not turned into actions."
"There was no plan to build a flyover. We have said many times that there will be no solution despite wasting thousands of crores of taka but no one listened. But, BRT could have been implemented step by step by spending Tk300-400 crore," he said.
"There is still time. Proper planning with fresh traffic management design is required. If the public transport system is developed, the average speed of vehicles will go up to 30 km/h," Engineer Subhash Barua added.