One can hardly miss the sight of thousands of motorbikes swarming the streets of Dhaka from morning till midnight. Their number has overtaken that of rickshaws. The difference is that bikes have valid licences while the latter does not bother to procure the same. For people who manage the city's traffic, rickshaws are an old problem and city residents have learnt to live with it. Motorbikes have emerged as a new headache for both traffic managers and the travelling public. It is important to find a solution to the new problem as early as possible.
Why are motorbikes being seen as a problem? These vehicles have been there for decades. None had lodged complaints against their plying the Dhaka streets even seven to eight years back. Why should there be a different opinion now?
Commercial use of private motorbikes could be responsible for it.
According to the data compiled by the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), the number of registered motorbikes was 210,000 in 2010 and, on an average, 35,000 new bikes took registration from the BRTA annually between 2010 and 2015. But from 2016, the number started rising at a break-neck pace and it reached nearly 100,000 a year. The total number of registered motorbikes in Dhaka now will be around 800,000.
Undeniably, many city people now prefer using motorbikes that help them negotiate the chronic traffic jam better and reach their destinations early. But that is not enough to support a phenomenal growth of motorcycles in Dhaka during the last five to six years.
The number of road accidents across the country has gone up in recent years. On an average, at least 15 to 20 persons die and many more receive injuries in these accidents. In many cases, motorbikes are involved in these accidents. Criminologists also trace a link between the increase in motorbike use by youths and the growing criminal activities.
It all started with the introduction of a ridesharing service by the US-based Uber Technologies Inc in Dhaka in 2016. The company first started with cars. Later, it included motorbikes.
Thousands of motorbike owners got registered with Uber and similar other ridesharing companies. Their number grew exponentially in the later years. Thousands of youths and others who lost jobs and other sources of income during the Covid-19 pandemic found the service an easy way to survive one of the most difficult times in human history. Bikers from adjoining districts are also coming to the city to earn a living.
The ridesharing motorbikes are now seen almost at most street corners and in front of large shopping malls and markets in Dhaka city, waiting for passengers.
While ridesharing has become an economic necessity for thousands of people, on-duty traffic policemen are finding these bikers as a huge problem. The ridesharing motorbikes are more prone to breaking traffic rules. They often get involved in accidents causing injuries to themselves and their co-riders.
Lately, the majority of ridesharing bikers have severed their links with Uber and the like. They now operate on their own as they are no longer interested in sharing their earnings with anyone. The ridesharing companies take a certain portion of the earnings of cars and motorbikes registered with them. But such severance of ties between the operators and ridesharing companies could prove a threat to the safety and security of the general people. It is hard to rule out the involvement of criminal elements in ridesharing services. In the event of any criminal incident, it would be hard to trace anyone involved in it.
The government needs to employ some control mechanism for the ridesharing bikers. Private vehicles are not legally entitled to do commercial operations. Commercial vehicles have to be registered with the BRTA under a different category and follow certain rules.
The BRTA may ask all the motorbikes that are engaged in ridesharing to get commercial licences and number plates of a different colour. This will help the police and relevant others to manage the ridesharing bikes better. Besides, the process will help eliminate some private motorbikes that operate part-time in the morning and evening.
The traffic system of Dhaka city has been in a difficult state for long. Time and money go wasted on the streets every day because of unending traffic gridlock. The ridesharing motorbikes have only added to the woes of the commuters. Surprisingly, the authorities concerned have not taken any measure to regulate the service properly. Had they taken such measures, the so-called ridesharing bikes would not have flooded the streets. The BRTA or any other agency until now does not feel the necessity of dealing with the issue.
An identical development has taken place with the battery-run rickshaws or easy bikes that are not legally allowed to operate in the city. When these vehicles had first appeared in the city streets, the city corporations and the traffic department ignored their presence. Despite being a threat to passengers' safety, these vehicles now operate in their thousands in the city. The problem has become so acute that the country's higher court has intervened and ordered their removal from the streets. But the authorities concerned are not complying with the order for fear of backlash from thousands of rickshaw-pullers. If the court issues a similar directive in the case of unauthorised ridesharing motorbikes, these agencies are also likely to find themselves in a similar situation.