Smooth and low-cost mobility of people is one of the critical issues to help ensure economic growth sustainable and reduce social disparity. However, the point is largely sidelined in this country, where thousands of people struggle daily for their mobility. The appalling public transport system cost them economically, physically and psychologically. They have to pay high for inadequate, uncomfortable, hazardous and environment-polluting public bus services. They have to run to get on board buses at the risk of their lives. The cumulative effect causes them undue incremental mental agony.
Not that there is no improvement in the county's public transport system over the years. Several steps have brought some positive changes in this regard. Nevertheless, these are inadequate and sometimes beneficial for a small group of people. The major section of daily commuters is yet to get relief from the dreadful public transport dominated by buses. Again, the Covid-19 exposed the rotten state of public buses further. It is highly disappointing that the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 (FY22) does not focus on this area adequately.
In his budget speech, delivered at national parliament on June 3, the finance minister mentioned the metro rail's ongoing construction project. To him, this is a "state-of-the-art public transport to reduce traffic congestion and improve the environment of the Dhaka metropolitan city and surrounding areas." He also termed it a "fast, safe, reliable, ecofriendly, and remotely controlled modern public transport system." Though all his statements on metro rail are valid, making it a reality will take time and needs proper adjustment with the existing public transport system. The finance minister also acknowledged "the importance of railways as a means of public transport in meeting the demands of our large population for low cost and safe transportation." In the speech, he also stated the list of development works of road and rail networks under several projects.
Big and ambitious infrastructure projects in the transport sector are necessary, but not sufficient, especially when there is no pragmatic step to reduce the daily commuter's nightmare efficiently. In Dhaka, revamping the bus-based public transport is an order of the day to reduce the plight of the daily commuters. The budget did not give any guideline in this direction. The finance minister only "proposes to reduce tariffs on microbus imports to discourage the use of accident-prone vehicles like nasimon, laguna and encourage the use of microbuses as an alternative public transport." While he rightly identified the unfitness of laguna or similar vehicles as public transport, microbus cannot be a better replacement for regular travelling.
Instead, a budgetary allocation to replace the dilapidated buses and minibuses should be there. It is not a big deal as the share of transport and communication in the total public expenditure increased to 11.90 per cent in the FY22 from 11.20 per cent in FY21. Unfortunately, this year's budget, like those in the previous years, has also hardly chalked out any roadmap to address the people's sufferings on account of their mobility courtesy of public transport.