A lack of a farsighted public transport policy has led to a worrisome expansion of an inefficient and chaotic public transport system in Bangladesh as a whole. The situation in the capital city, in particular, beggars description. In the absence of a much-cherished mass-transport system, undesirables like three-wheelers, two-wheelers and ramshackle buses have taken the city-dwellers for a ride.
Getting rid of the inefficient and costly road-communications system appears almost impossible, at least in the near future. Though a well-designed bus-based solution can significantly reduce the inefficiencies, a comprehensive approach is missing in this direction. Instead, small and private motor vehicles have been encouraged by various means. Fast rise of motorcycles on streets and roads is a clear example in this connection.
In fact, the government has incentivised the motorcycle industry in the wrong way, making the vehicle easily affordable to many. As the personalised vehicle helps improve mobility and beats the awful traffic, hundreds and thousands of people are now using it to move anywhere. Many people have also adopted ride-sharing as their source of income. The total number of newly registered motorcycles in the country stood at around 0.51 million as of 2022. The number was 0.37 million in 2021, and soon jumped by 35 per cent in a year. The accumulated number of registered motorcycles in the last decade also stood at around 3.28 million in the country. Then there are some unregistered motorcycles across the country, especially in rural and remote areas. Thus, the actual number of motorbikes is more than the officially recorded one.
With an ever-growing number, it also becomes the riskiest, accident-prone, notorious and unruly vehicle on the roads and streets across the country. A study conducted by Accident Research Institute (ARI) of BUET and the World Bank found that out of 16 countries with the highest number of motorcycles, Bangladesh has the highest death rate. For every 10,000 motorcycles, 28.4 people are losing their lives in accidents. Every day, there are numerous road accidents in the country linked with motorcycles. Not that motorcycle drivers are alone responsible for these accidents. But unruly and reckless driving by a section of bikers has enhanced the risk of accidents significantly. Again, it has created problems for other vehicles and pedestrians in many cases. Smooth roads and highways sometimes prompt driving at higher speeds and competing with each other unnecessarily to reach the destination earlier.
Against this backdrop, the government has now come up with the 'Motorcycle Movement Policy 2023.' Drafted by a nine-member committee with a joint-secretary of transport ministry as the head, the objective of the policy is to 'reduce motorcycle- related accidents, encourage the use of scooters instead of sports bikes and raise awareness among motorcycle users.'
The draft policy outlines a series of measures. These includes restricting speed limit of motorcycles inside Dhaka within 30 kms per hour, barring motorcycles with less than 126cc size on highways and allowing only drivers of motorcycles on highways. The proposed policy also bars pregnant women, elders and children younger than 12 travelling as passengers on a motorcycle, and sellers from selling motorcycles to buyers without a licence. It further suggests tax exemption on scooters and increase in taxes on sporty motorcycles.
Though the objective of the policy in the making seems good, it has raised some valid questions and concerns. Stakeholders, especially manufactures, buyers and users, have already alleged that the policy has been drafted with a bias against the motorcycle. They argue that many of the measures, recommended in the draft policy, are not based on scientific data and analysis. Some proposed measures are also not implementable properly. For instance, how the traffic police will monitor the speed limit of 30km per hour in Dhaka where thousands of motorcycles move chaotically daily along with other motor vehicles like buses and cars? Random check and penalty may be the only option, although it will work little as a dterrent.
Again, the policy has proposed that motorcycle sellers should sell a set of helmets with a bike and also check the licence of a buyer. It sounds funny. All the motorcycle drivers and riders are legally bound to use helmet for safety reasons. If they don't comply, it is the responsibility of traffic police to fine and compel them to do so.
In fact, the problems related to proliferation of motorcycles need to be considered in a broader context of the public transport system. Daily commuters are forced to commute on dirty, narrow-spaced, ramshackle and unfit buses and minibuses. These buses are polluting the air and environment. The number of buses is also not adequate. As an alternative, many opt for motorcycles. To meet the growing demand, manufactures have already invested around Tk 100 billion. Gradually, it has become an alternative public transport reflecting the wrong approach of the policymakers.
Unfortunately, uncontrolled uses of motorcycle have also created a social disorder. Driving on wrong side and footpaths has become a regular habit of a large number of motorcycle drivers. Many of them are used to occupying streets and roadsides by wrong parking. A growing number of underage and youths are using the vehicles only to demonstrate their overenthusiasm.
Now, to correct all the wrongs, the authorities are trying to implement a restrictive policy having many flawed measures. One of the core objectives of the proposed policy is to encourage slow-moving scooter which is relatively less accident-prone. It is, however, in line with the focus on small motor vehicles in a densely populated country which will not address the mobility problem adequately.
In fact, all kinds of small vehicles like motorcycles, CNG-driven three-wheelers, battery-run auto-rickshaws and private cars are insufficient to ensure smooth mobility for greater numbers of people. So, encouraging these small motor vehicles ultimately increases traffic congestions and reduce traffic movements inside cities. Bangladesh is facing the problem now and it will continue to become acute unless addressed in a planned manner. Non-motorised vehicles like rickshaws run by muscle power only intensifies the problem. Without an extensive restructuring of the public transport, any incoherent policy to cut the use of motorcycles will not bring the optimal result in the long run. Instead, it may create another chaos and make things complicated further.