In the last two years after the road safety movement, the enactment of a tougher road transport act and the formation of a taskforce to curb road crashes have been the most talked about issues in the transport sector.
Several committees were formed and a series of meetings were held to make the law effective and the taskforce functional.
Ministers and high officials made lofty promises about the law on the one hand, while the transport associations doubled down on their efforts to prevent the implementation of the law on the other.
And as the country observes the second anniversary of the unprecedented movement, road users and experts find the law and the taskforce did not bear fruit as the roads have remained as dangerous as it was.
“Indiscipline in the transport sector is the main reason behind the road crashes. So the system has to be reformed,” said Prof Shamsul Hoque, adding that no improvement has been made in bringing discipline to the sector.
The eminent transport expert came up with these remarks when asked to evaluate the current situation of the sector.
Two students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College were killed and nine others were injured on July 29, 2018, following a mad race between two buses.
Thousands of students took to the streets seeking justice for the killing and demanding safe roads.
Following the demonstration, lawmakers hastily passed the Road Transport Act-2018, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a 17-point directive, and police observed multiple “traffic weeks” to bring discipline to roads.
A Dhaka court in December last year handed down life sentences to two drivers and a helper of Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan in connection with the incident, saying, “The callousness of drivers and helpers in the transport sector is causing many deaths which must be stopped.”
But the numbers of road crashes and fatalities increased last year compared to the previous year.
According to police data, 4,138 people were killed in 4,147 road accidents last year. The previous year, 2,609 road crashes claimed 2,635 lives. The data was prepared based on cases filed with different police stations across the country.
However, the figures are significantly lower than those of other road-safety organisations.
The rising trend of road crashes remained almost the same until late March when the government suspended operations of public transport to contain the spread of Covid-19. Public transport resumed operations on June 1.
TWO MAJOR INITIATIVES YET TO BEAR FRUIT
The parliament passed the RTA in September 2018, but the government did not make the law effective till November last year.
When the government took initiative to enforce the law, transport associations called strikes demanding that the government does not penalise drivers of commercial vehicles even if they violate some key sections of the act until June this year.
In the face of their demand, the government decided not to penalise those who drive heavy vehicles with licences meant for light or medium vehicles until June this year and later extended the relaxation for another year.
It also waived the late fees for not renewing driving licences and fitness documents of vehicles till December this year.
Meanwhile, a committee led by former Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan was formed last year to give recommendations for curbing road crashes and bringing discipline to the sector.
The committee in April last year gave 111 recommendations and a taskforce led by Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan was formed in October last year to implement those.
The taskforce held its only meeting in November to include three more members in it. It assigned four secretaries to recommend and plan how the recommendations could be implemented. No further movement of the taskforce was visible.
WHAT AN EXPERT SAYS?
Prof Shamsul Hoque, also a member of the taskforce, said although the authority had taken some initiatives following the movement, but did not take steps to reform the sector.
“Bus routes rationalisation and introduction of bus franchise system are needed in Dhaka city to bring discipline to the public transport system. But these were not done,” he said.
Rather, more buses were given route permits and the number of motorcycles is increasing in an unregulated way, which are further complicating the situation.
As per the planned bus franchise system, all buses operating in the city will be brought under six companies and by route rationalisation, and all the bus routes in the capital and adjacent areas would be brought under 22 major routes.
He said “ad-hoc” basis steps were taken after any major incident, but no steps were taken to strengthen the capacity of BRTA and Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA).
“Such ad-hoc initiatives have no continuation, and therefore, no sustainability,” he added.
“It takes time and power to make a reform. The government had the opportunity but unfortunately, it did not take it,” he added.
Prof Shamsul said even if the construction of six metro rail lines was completed within 2035, around 40 percent passengers will still be relying on public transports like buses. “But the authorities are not giving proper consideration to it,” he added.