Multinational donor agency, the World Bank, has expressed its initial consent to shift its $475-million support from a proposed Dhaka public transport improvement project to another upcoming project aimed to fight off Covid-19 in public transports.
The proposed project meant to build Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Line-3 (South) from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport to Mohakhali Bus Terminal with the technical and financial support of the World Bank has been postponed by the Road Transport and Highways Division.
Instead, the division is formulating a new project with the same lender's support focusing on green technology and structural changes to public transports and importing two-door buses in order to resist Covid-19 infection and ensure health safety for both passengers and transport staff.
Meanwhile, the World Bank has also agreed to provide more $250 million to implement another project titled "Public Transport and Road Safety project".
The issue of the World Bank's support, which is total $725 million equivalent to over Tk6,000 crore, has surfaced recently at a virtual meeting among the officials of the global lender and several agencies under the Road Transport and Highways Division.
According to the meeting minutes, the government will not implement the 10km BRT Line-3 (South) apprehending that it may also create an extreme traffic havoc like its north counterpart has done.
Planned for 2021, the 20km BRT Line-3 (North) through Dhaka North City Corporation and Gazipur City Corporation areas is the first system of its kind in Bangladesh, but it has already posed significant technical, institutional and political risks.
Officials of the Road Transport and Highways Division said the World Bank country director opined the agency might shift the finance for BRT Line-3 (South) to other projects and initiatives of the road transport division to help the transport sector combat Covid-19 pandemic.
Md Nazrul Islam, secretary of the Road Transport and Highways Division and chair of the meeting, welcomed the proposal and asked officials concerned to assess the agencies' needs to combat the panemic.
The meeting imposed the responsibility to Md Zakir Hossain, joint chief of the division, to formulate the new project.
Zakir Hossain told The Business Standard that the BRT-3 (North) has stagnated due to several reasons, and the project is creating traffic jams on the road. So, the government will not extend the BRT to Mohakhali.
He also said the proposal for the project to combat Covid-19 in transport sector would start after the final decision.
Officials at the meeting said, due to the pandemic, bus trips in Dhaka have already come down to almost half. In the post-lockdown phase, it is important to continue the operation of this critical mode of transport ensuring safety of passengers and staff through proper hygiene and social distancing norms along with sustainability of bus operators.
The meeting emphasised the importance of bus route rationalisation and bus sector's strategic and structural reformation to suit to the demand of being a seamless, modern, economic and efficient prototype bus management system.
The officials said Roads and Highways Department (RHD), Dhaka Transport Co-ordination Authority (DTCA), Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), and Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) would submit their respective proposals describing how the World Bank could support to fight the Covid-19 during and the post-pandemic period.
However, the RHD has been crawling with the first BRT project for the last nine years. After adding three and a half years to the project's initial implementation period, only one-fourth of the project has been completed so far.
The government is implementing a technical assistance project for the second phase of the BRT to revise and update the detailed design and cost estimations for the Airport to Mohakhali section.
Dr Shamsul Hoque, a professor at the Bangladesh University and Engineering and Technology's Civil Engineering Department, said there is no alternative to extending the BRT up to Keraniganj if the government wants to reap full benefits from the project.
However, the extension will not be possible because of intermittent flyovers and the ongoing Metro Rail project on its way, he also said.
Nevertheless, if the BRT is not extended to the entry point of the city, the investment for it would not bear any fruit, he added.