The huge number of cars on the roads is the primary cause of the ever-worsening traffic jams in Dhaka city, while jaywalking by pedestrians is a leading cause of road accidents, says Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Additional Commissioner (traffic) Mofiz Uddin Ahmed.
He says there too many cars in the city for the space available on the roads. That, along with the simultaneous implementation of a number of development projects, such as the metro rail, is compounding the problem.
In an exclusive interview with The Business Standard, the law enforcement officer talks about different aspects of Dhaka's traffic management, and says traffic congestion will reduce once the development projects are finished.
TBS: What is the biggest challenge in traffic management in Dhaka?
As we work to bring order on the streets of Dhaka, we have to face some realities. Firstly, there are too many cars in the city. Secondly, there are also non-motorised vehicles using the roads. On top of this, there are numerous development projects being implemented by different agencies.
Therefore, even if other issues are addressed, some problems will remain until the ongoing government projects are completed. We all will enjoy the benefits once the projects are finished.
The Moghbazar-Mouchak flyover is an appropriate example in this case. People had to suffer a lot when it was under construction. There was extensive digging of roads. However, when it was opened to the public, everyone benefitted.
The ongoing metro rail project is another such example. Once implemented, it will serve a lot of passengers. As a result, traffic congestion will ease to a great degree, and order will return on the roads.
TBS: Lack of coordination between different government agencies often causes chaos and road accidents. Pedestrians and commuters face problems because of damaged roads and construction material being left on the roadside. Is there any lack of coordination between your team and those implementing the development projects on the roads?
The activities of city corporations, Wasa, Rajuk and other development agencies often cause us trouble. But we are working with these agencies to keep the traffic under control as they do their work. We have already prepared some regulations and sent those to them.
We are continuing our work to provide even better coordination and implementation of different projects. We are considering measures to streamline movement of vehicles and pedestrians while development activities, such as construction of roads, installation of electric poles and water supply lines continue. Such measures will also help in the timely implementation of projects. We are working with all the relevant agencies to solve the problems.
We are preparing work schedules for different projects based on our field observations, and sending letters to the agencies to ask them to follow the schedules. For example, there are fewer vehicles and pedestrians on the roads on Fridays and Saturdays as the days are holidays. So, we instruct some agencies to utilise these two days.
As the number of vehicles and pedestrians also decrease after midnight, those hours should be utilised. If necessary, more manpower should be employed to help with illumination at night. The bottom line is that the roads have to remain free during the day.
TBS: In recent times, there have been movements against road accidents throughout the country. The police on their part also responded with some corrective measures, such as traffic week. As a result, we witnessed a number of improvements. Among these are motorbike drivers and riders using helmets, and vehicles not driving on the wrong lane. Despite all these, why cannot reckless driving be controlled?
Proper training and counselling are one of the best ways to regulate reckless behaviour on the roads. We have prepared some models by working with bus owners and transport workers to stop reckless driving.
We have also taken steps to train drivers and bus helpers. Drivers and helpers have been included in a regular counselling programme aimed at reducing accidents. We are also trying to regulate the practice of stopping buses arbitrarily.
Police who are or will be working in the field are also being trained. Even today (September 3), I held a training programme in Mirpur. We are trying to implement our new models more and more.
Everything cannot be changed overnight, but the situation at present is better than it was in the past. We are optimistic about things improving further.
TBS: What is the main cause of traffic jams in Dhaka?
The huge number of cars on the roads is one of the main reasons. The number of cars is increasing every day. Traffic management will become very difficult if this cannot be controlled. However, we must acknowledge that this cannot be controlled by force. We have to look for alternative solutions. Encouraging more people to use public transportation is an option.
We have introduced three stages of traffic management. In the first stage, there are commuters who are solvent enough to use cars, motorbikes or CNG-run autorickshaws. We are trying to introduce buses with some advanced features as an alternative option for these commuters.
We recently introduced air-conditioned buses that are a bit better than the ones currently running on Dhaka roads. We have already approved 850 such buses of 22 companies. These will start services soon.
The circular bus service has already been launched and it has been well-received by the public. Those using cars, rickshaws or CNG-run autorickshaws are now switching to this service as it provides an air-conditioning facility at a relatively cheap fare.
TBS: The DMP traffic division is working on various awareness raising activities while maintaining law and order in traffic management. Are these initiatives producing any positive results?
There are almost 800 police officials working at 100 traffic intersections in the city. They not only prosecute people who break the law, but also provide on-spot counselling for at least five minutes. They point out the mistakes on the spot.
Only enforcing the law is not enough; people also have to be educated on road manners. Pedestrians jaywalking on the roads is one of the key reasons for traffic jams and road accidents. That is why it is essential to introduce a law to control jaywalking.
TBS: Why is the digital traffic signal system failing repeatedly?
The system is managed by the city corporations. At present, the system is down for various reasons. It will be relaunched soon after it is tweaked to suit our traffic system.