Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Save Dhaka's Rickshaws

Via The 3rd World View comes the unfortunate story of a war on rickshaws in Dhaka.

So who would dream of waging war on the humble rickshaw and the colourful men who ply them? Car owners, traffic police and the World Bank, that’s who. The growing gap between the rich and poor in Bangladesh can be reflected in the increasing use of privately owned vehicles:

In 1998 the data showed that Rickshaws took up 38% of road space while transporting 54% of passengers in Dhaka . The private cars on the other hand, took up 34% of road space while only transporting 9% of the population — Voice of South.org.

Given the insanity of Dhaka’s roads, where motorised and non-motorised vehicles struggle violently for a place of their own in laneless traffic, it is not surprising that cars, bullied on the road by buses and even the tough, boxy little dodgem car that is the CNG (autorickshaw), make rickshaws the scapegoat for Dhaka’s maddening traffic congestion and accidents.

This is really unfortunate. Living in a major city in the United States, I often think that introducing rickshaw service would be a great part of an urban transportation plan. After all, what is the use of taking a train or a bus or a taxi for a few blocks. Usually, I opt to walk. But sometimes, as when you've just left the grocery store, or it's late in the evening, it would make a lot of sense to take a rickshaw.

But especially in Dhaka, where air pollution threatens the health of the city, it makes no sense to reduce the number of rickshaws. Eliminating old diesel engines is great, and so is moving to CNG. But banning rickshaws makes no sense environmentally.

Nor does a rickshaw ban make sense economically for the city. As Kathryn Hummel points out in her post at PopMatters,

...banning rickshaws would mean the collapse of an important web of culture and economics in Bangladesh. Not just the loss of art and street vibrancy, and an easily available and environmentally friendly form of transport, but the economic ramifications stretch far: not only to the wallahs, but to their families living in rural Bangladesh, to the mechanics and artists who create and fix rickshaws, and the vendors of the cha and food stalls. It is general knowledge amongst local patrons of rickshaws that the average daily earning of the wallah is 200 taka a day, of which about 80 taka goes to the owner of the rickshaw they hire. A report conducted by the WBB (Working for Better Bangladesh) Trust, showed that the Mirpur Road ban resulted in a 32 percent net loss of earnings for the average rickshaw wallah, increased the cost of trips for passengers, as well as time taken to travel.

Rickshaw lanes would be great. But I think that the government should go further, and institute a program to expand owner-operator status to more rickshaw wallahs, ensuring that the men who drive the rickshaws are able to keep more of their income, and not have to pay out what is sometimes a 50 percent or higher fee to a richshaw owner.

Dhaka without the colorful rickshaw culture would hardly be Dhaka. It would be a completely different city. I hope that, with the environmental and economic struggles facing the country and the world today, that such foolish policies as banning rickshaws in Dhaka will find themselves forgotten soon.


Unknown said...

Knowledge-based Transport Planning and Rickshaw Bans

By Mahbubul Bari
Dhaka, Bangladesh - The New Nation

For several years, discussion of transport issues and problems in Dhaka has had a singular focus on the supposed contribution of cycle rickshaws to traffic congestion, and the need to facilitate movement of automobiles. In line with this analysis of the transport situation, various projects have been undertaken, focusing on banning rickshaws and rickshaw vans from major roads, and sometimes relegating them to narrow rickshaw lanes. The problem of car parking has been addressed mainly through insistence on provision of separate parking places by offices, shops and restaurants even by enacting law under the building code. It is a matter of deep regret that not a single transport policy decision was undertaken after conducting a proper scientific or knowledge-based analysis of the transport problems of the city. It has become a standard norm to take important policy decisions rather arbitrarily, whether it is rickshaw ban or Strategic Transport Plan (STP) for the city.

The results of these various initiatives have been made clear through government-mandated studies, including the HDRC report on the rickshaw ban on Mirpur Road (HDRC 2004), and the DUTP after-study report (DUTP 2006). The results, almost astonishingly negative, would suggest that the basis for the policy decisions and transport plans are flawed. This would be less than surprising when considering the fact that important transport policy decisions were taken without employing any knowledge-based approach or scientific study.

Moreover, despite the strong evidence of increased travel costs and traffic congestion, transport planning continues to focus on expanding the role of the automobile and reducing that of fuel-free transport. That pattern has been reflected by the further extension of the rickshaw bans on more city roads. In this connection, readers are requested to draw their attention to the following news item:

“Traffic Division of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police made Purana Paltan-Bijoynagar Road off-limits to rickshaws from Thursday. The decision was taken at a meeting on Wednesday. All the deputy commissioners of four traffic divisions were present at the meeting. M Sayedur Rahman, deputy commissioner (south) of traffic division, told New Age on Thursday that the authorities banned plying of non-motorised vehicles on the stretch between Purana Paltan and Bijoynagar to ease traffic congestion.” The New Age, Dhaka, Friday, October 19, 2007″.

This arbitrary decision making process as depicted in the news item draws attention to a number of disturbing questions as follows: Do the police have the authority to ban or restrict rickshaw movements?

If yes, from whom do they get that authority?

Do the police have similar authority to limit the movement of motorised vehicles when there is not sufficient road capacity for them, e.g. narrow lanes, which cannot accommodate cars without causing traffic jams?

Probably not, it is therefore clear that such misguided policy actions are being pursued just to give absolute priority in the transport system of the city for a tiny minority of car owners, i.e. the so called elite section of the society.

Do the police have requisite training to make proper transport decisions?

If so, why dies Dhaka needs organisation like DTCB, when the police can do the job better?

The rickshaw bans are being extended beyond Mirpur Road, but it seems unlikely that those bans were carried out by the police, rather than by a section of the powerful bureaucrats behind the scene. It may be mentioned here that after failure of the rickshaw ban in the demonstration project of the Mirpur Road, the World Bank has set the standard of extending further bans on the condition that: “Any future support from the World Bank would be possible only if it can be demonstrated that aggregate positive impacts of NMT-free conversion on transport users and transport providers outweigh the aggregate negative impact”.

It is matter of deep regret that policies continue to give car owners absolute priority, while ignoring the fundamental principle of any transport project appraisal, that is, that net user benefits of any transport intervention must exceed net loss.

Now, it may be appropriate to concentrate on, possibly, the most important argument in the news item, that is, “the authorities banned plying of non-motorised vehicles on the stretch between Purana Paltan and Bijoynagar to ease traffic congestion.” In the following paragraphs answer to this question and other related aspects of such transport policy interventions, will be analysed in the light of knowledge-based and participatory decision-making approach.

Did the previous rickshaw ban in Dhaka City ease traffic congestion?

The answer lies in the “After Project” report of the government mandated study of the Mirpur Road Demonstration project (DUTP 2006), where fuel free transport was banned.

It might be appropriate to look into the issue considering a number of key congestion indices with respect to before and after scenarios of the Mirpur Road Demonstration project as follows:

Average journey time per vehicle

Average journey time per person

Journey reliability

Throughput (total number of vehicles per time interval that pass a point on the carriageway)

Average Journey time per Vehicle

The Table 1 shows the comparison of travel times of fuel dependent (motorised) vehicles between 2000 and 2005. Considering large variability of the travel time data, it is evident that there is no statistically significant difference of travel times of fuel dependent or motorised vehicles between pre and post rickshaw ban scenarios. This means that no travel time gain for fuel dependent vehicle was achieved due to rickshaw ban.

The Table 2 demonstrates the comparison of travel times of buses between 2000 and 2005. Although there is no statistically significant difference of travel times for fuel dependent vehicles between pre and post FFT ban scenarios, the travel times for buses did undergo significant deterioration with a 26.1% increase of travel times. This means that bus congestion has increased significantly due to imposition of rickshaw ban in the Mirpur Road demonstration corridor.

On balance average vehicle congestion in terms of journey time per vehicle has increased significantly due to the rickshaw ban.

Average journey time per person : Bus travel has worsened following the FFT ban, with a 26.1% increase in travel time; passenger travels by bus has become slower than by rickshaw. Thus all the bus passengers (28.1% of total passengers)-both those who continue to travel by bus in pre- and post-project scenarios, and those who were forced to shift from rickshaws-have experienced significant increase in travel times.

Impacts of the project on car passengers who have been riding a car both pre- and post-project are more or less neutral, as there is no significant difference in travel time.

The passengers of motorised para-transit who continue to travel both in pre- and post-project scenarios are likely to suffer increase in average journey times. While there is no significant difference in travel times between scenarios, the times required to find a driver who would be willing to go for short trips have gone up substantially as per HDRC report (HDRC 2004) thereby increasing average travel times per person.

Despite being subjected to a ban on Mirpur Road, rickshaws remain the most popular means of transport in the corridor, accounting for 30% of all trips. Rickshaw passengers have become net losers, being forced to take long detours using congested side roads, and thereby substantially increase their travel time.

These evidences from the after project studies prove that congestion in terms of average journey time per person have increased significantly after rickshaw ban in the Mirpur Road demonstration corridor.

Journey Reliability: Both DUTP after project study (DUTP 2006) and HDRC studies reported significant deterioration of waiting times for bus passengers. Again, as reported in the HDRC report, baby taxi operators are reluctant to take short trips, causing significant increases in waiting times for passengers. Similarly, finding suitable taxicabs at an affordable cost has become increasingly troublesome and time-consuming for short trips.

It is therefore clearly evident that journey reliability of the Mirpur Road demonstration project deteriorated significantly due to imposition of rickshaw ban. This in turn represents increase of congestion.

Throughput (total number of vehicles per time interval that pass a point on the carriageway)

Although it might not be appropriate to compare throughputs between a FFT free road and a mixed vehicles road, it is obvious from the Table 3 that number of vehicles that pass at North of Dhanmodi R#2 of Mirpur Road, decreased significantly both in terms of absolute number of vehicles and passenger car equivalents due to rickshaw ban. This indicates the congestion in terms of throughput has increased significantly due to rickshaw ban in Mirpur Road.

Again, although passenger carrying capacities of the whole network under investigation were found to increase on average by 30% due to a significant increase of bus services under a private sector-driven initiative, increase in passenger capacity for the demonstration project was only 15%. Again, a careful analysis of data reveals that nearly total elimination of FFT combined with a very high increase in bus service resulted in only a 15% increase in passenger capacity, whereas a small decrease in cars combined with only a modest increase in bus service resulted in a 27% increase in passenger capacity in a VIP road, which has been under FDT-only operation in the base case, indicating that as far as road capacity is concerned the problem is cars, not rickshaws.

Whether car more efficient than rickshaws in terms of road space occupancy?

Despite constant claims of the city officials that rickshaws are the main source of traffic jams, data indicate that rickshaws are far superior to cars as far as road space occupancy is concerned (see Table 4). In the base case i.e. before fuel free transport ban, rickshaws made up 69.8% of vehicles, yet utilised only 43.5% of road space to transport 59.4% of passengers (all trips). Cars made up only 6.4% of vehicles, yet occupied as much as 29.9% of the road space in the base case to transport far fewer passengers (5.5%) than by rickshaw.

Despite being removed from the main roads, rickshaws are still the most popular mode of transport, serving 30% of the passengers, whereas cars serve only 8.5% of all trips (11% of vehicular trips) while requiring the greatest share of road space (54.2%). Although the modal share of cars in overall has gone up only 3.0%, they now claim about 25% more road space than prior to FFT ban. If one considers the additional parking space required for them, total road space required would be much higher. It is clear that a combination of fuel-free transit and public transit would be far superior to a fuel-dependent transport and public transit option.

It may be mentioned here that despite 50% traffic growth of motorised vehicles during 2000 to 2005 period, the traffic in terms of PCE (passenger car equivalent) in Mirpur Road Demonstration corridor was lower in 2005 in comparison to that of 2000. However, despite having less number of traffic in 2005, the performance of the corridor was significantly worse under FFT free condition after the ban.

It is therefore clearly evident from the data analysis of the DUTP after project study that congestion in terms of all major congestion indices has increased significantly due to imposition of fuel free transport ban in the Mirpur Road demonstration corridor.

3 Comments so far

Syed Saiful Alam on December 31, 2007 12:20 am Fuel Consumption and Environmental Impact of Rickshaw Bans in Dhaka

Dear all
Most trips in Dhaka are short in distance, usually one to five kilometers. These trips are perfect of Rickshaws. Rickshaws are cheap and popular mode of transport over short distances. Rickshaws are safe, environmentally friendly and do not rely on fossil fuels. Rickshaws support a significant portion of the population, not only the pullers, but also their families in the villages, the mechanics who fix the rickshaws, as well as street hawkers who sell them food. From the raw materials to the finished product the Rickshaw employs some 38 different professions. Action needs to be taken to support the Rickshaw instead of further banning it in Dhaka. The combined profits of all Rickshaws out earn all other passenger transport modes (bus, rail, boats and airlines) combined. In Dhaka alone, Rickshaw pullers combine to earn 20 million taka a month.

We think that over the coming holiday of Eid du Ajah, new Rickshaw bans will be put into action on roads in Dhaka. Eid was used in the past to place new bans on roads in Dhaka. Last Eid many roads were declared Rickshaw free without public support or approval. By banning Rickshaws roads are clogged with increased private car use as well as increased parking by cars. Banning of Rickshaws on major roads increases the transportation costs for commuters. Not only due to longer trips to avoid roads with bans in effect, but also due to actually having to take more expensive forms of transport such as CNG or Taxi, where in the past a Rickshaw would suffice. The environmental impact of banning Rickshaws is obvious because it exchanges a non-motorized form of transport for a motorized form of transport, thus increasing the pollution and harming the environment. Rickshaw bans harm the most vulnerable in society, mainly the sick, poor, women, children and the elderly; generally those who can not afford or do not feel comfortable on other forms of public transport. To ban Rickshaws also hurts small businesses that rely on them as a cheap and reliable form of transporting their goods. Rickshaws are ideal for urban settings because they can transport a relatively large number of passengers while taking up a small portion of the road. In 1998 the data showed that Rickshaws took up 38% of road space while transporting 54% of passengers in Dhaka . The private cars on the other hand, took up 34% of road space while only transporting 9% of the population (1998 DUTP). This data does not include the parking space on roads that cars take up in Dhaka . If included this would further raise the amount of space taken up by private cars. Every year the Rickshaw saves Bangladesh 100 billion taka in environmental damage.

The government makes many efforts to reduce traffic congestion in Dhaka but with no success. Blaming Rickshaws for traffic congestion and subsequently banning them from major roads has not had the desired affect. Traffic is still as bad now as it was before the Rickshaws were banned on major roads. Rickshaws thus can not be seen as the major cause of traffic congestion. Instead one should look towards private cars and private car parking on roads as the major cause of traffic congestion. The space gained by banning Rickshaws is often used for private car parking. The current trend in transport planning reduces the mobility of the majority for the convenience of the minority. The next time a ban on Rickshaws on another road is discussed please take into consideration who is being hurt and who is being helped. For a better transport system in Dhaka we need to create a city wide network of Rickshaw lanes. If this is done Dhaka can reduce its fuel usage dramatically as well its pollution. We ask your help in our fight to keep Dhaka a Rickshaw city. Any information or help is very much appreciated and sought after. I write you this letter to describe the difficulties we are facing and some solutions but they are by no means exhaustive and we look forward to your help and input.

Syed Saiful Alam Shovan
Save Environment Movement
House # 58/1, Kalabagan 1st lane
Dhanmondi, Dhaka,Bangladesh
Email shovan1209@yahoo.

Yasmin Chowdhury on March 1, 2008 7:43 am Pricing public transit: learning from Bangkok
Yasmin Chowdhury

When I first visited Bangkok in 1994, I got around the city mostly by bus. The buses were slow, the streets congested, and I soon learned that I could only make one plan for the morning and one for the afternoon, as it might take a couple hours to move about.
Then the city started to build their skytrain. I waited with great anticipation for its completion. It seemed to require a lot more time and a lot more money (OK, just two years of delay and three times over budget) than originally anticipated, and the fares are admittedly quite high, but it was finally built—if never finished. (I saw an article in a Thai newspaper about people very upset that the planned line to their area had never been built; meanwhile, the pilings leading to the now domestic-only airport have been converted into advertising posts.)
To be quite honest, I love the skytrain. Sure, the cement structure looming overhead is ugly. Sure, most of the stations lack escalators, making them inaccessible to those in wheelchairs, and exceedingly difficult for those lugging heavy bags or luggage. Sure, the two lines only cover a very limited portion of Bangkok. Sure, it’s expensive. Sure, despite all the hassles, the trains are often packed. Sure, the stations are congested and I sometimes have to push through people to reach my train. But at least I can see a little of the city while I travel, and I can now get around to the stops on the line quickly, allowing myself to visit far more places in a day.
Though the skytrain certainly makes moving around the city much easier (if you can afford it), it obviously didn’t alleviate the congestion, as the government then opened a very limited subway system. The first time I tried to ride it, about a year after it opened, it was closed for two weeks due to an accident. I finally rode it a couple years after that, and discovered that it cost about US$0.50 to ride what it would take me ten minutes to walk. That seemed outrageous, and I don’t love riding up and down long escalators and traveling in tunnels. Since the Metro doesn’t seem to go much beyond the skytrain, I stick to the skytrain.
But now, after spending billions of dollars on those mass transit systems, and despite having an existing extensive bus system, and more roads than most Asian cities of their level of economic development, the government is now planning bus rapid transit—a bit like a street-level trolley, but with buses instead of trams. Of course, that too is delayed—but the cost is a fraction of that for the skytrain and Metro.
A more careful look at those costs reveals something interesting and of considerable relevance as Dhaka plans its public transit system. According to various Web sites, the skytrain, which opened in 1999, cost about US$1.5 billion for 24 kilometers. That amounts to US$62.5 million per kilometer. Of course, things were cheaper back then.
Construction of the Metro began back in 1996, but it wasn’t finished until 2004. According to Wikipedia, “The project suffered multiple delays not only because of the 1997 economic crisis, but also due to challenging civil engineering works of constructing massive underground structures deep in the water-logged soil upon which the city is built.” Interesting. Fortunately we don’t have those troubles in Dhaka (ahem!).
As for cost, the Metro cost a mere US$ 2.75 billion for 21 km, or US$130.95 million per kilometer—just over twice that of the skytrain. Apparently burrowing underground, dealing with flooding issues, providing ventilation, and so on is much more expensive than building above our heads. Meanwhile, again quoting Wikipedia, “ridership has settled down to around 180,000 riders daily — considerably lower than projections of over 400,000, despite fares being slashed in half from 12-38 baht to 10-15 baht per trip. As of 2006, fares range between 14-36 baht per trip.” With an exchange rate as I write of 32 baht to one US dollar, that’s a mighty high fare. Good thing Bangladeshis are wealthier than Thais (??).
Meanwhile, the anticipated cost for the BRT is 33.4 million for 36 kilometers. Admittedly, anticipated costs are often far less than actual costs, but still, at US$0.93 million per kilometer, that’s a bargain compared to the Metro or the skytrain—even more so when considering it’s being built last, when prices are highest. At 67 times less than the skytrain and 141 times less than the Metro, even with significant cost increases, it will still be far more affordable than its public transit predecessors.
Of course, operational costs are another issue. Buses require fuel, trains electricity. Buses tend to require more maintenance, tires wear down frequently, and buses have to be replaced far more often than trains. While it is cheaper to build a BRT system initially, the higher operational costs might mean that, in the long term, a tram system would be more affordable—tram meaning street-level light rail, not something up in the sky or underground, which greatly multiplies the costs.
Which is all to say, I’m all for public transit. So, apparently, are Thais: last I checked, hotels and housing advertise their proximity to the various public transit options. Apparently people are sick and tired of sitting in cars stuck in traffic jams. In public transit, you can sit back and read a book while you ride, look out the window (preferably not at tunnels), eavesdrop on your neighbor’s conversation, and otherwise amuse yourself without risking crashing into someone once the traffic moves again.
But when considering spending millions or billions on public transit, it would make sense to invest it wisely, in a system that will be the most extensive and least expensive, and thus offer the best value for the money. At 141 times per kilometer less to build BRT than Metro, we could both have a far more extensive system, meeting far more people’s needs, and lower fares. Sounds like a bargain to me!

Syed Saiful Alam on March 2, 2008 10:29 am March 2, 2008
DMP’s plan for better traffic
management fails
The Daily New Age March 2, 2008
Abdul Kader

Though the Dhaka Metropolitan Police has made efforts from time to time for better traffic management in the capital city, they fail due to lack of proper enforcement of traffic rules, said a traffic engineer.
The DMP commissioner at a meeting in October last year with four deputy commissioners of traffic division decided to strengthen the enforcement of laws against the banned 20-year-old vehicles and illegal parking, but no progress was found visible as a huge number of unfit vehicles still ply the city streets.
The communications ministry in collaboration with DMP imposed the ban on plying of 20-year-old buses and minibuses in 2002. Even though the DMP seized a good number of outdated vehicles in few months since the imposition of the ban, now many unfit vehicles ply the streets.
The DMP authorities also decided to take stern action against illegal parking, but it still continues in the city for lack of implementation of the decision.
A traffic sergeant said a vehicle is fined Tk 200 for illegal parking under Section 137 of Motor Vehicles Ordinance. ‘The range of fine should be increased to stop violation of the rules.’
Officials of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority said the revised ordinance had been submitted to the government with proposal for increasing the existing fine which was at final stage.
Shakil Kashem, lecturer of urban and regional planning department at BUET said, ‘The authorities concerned have showed their eagerness to remove bus counters from footpaths, but they don’t dare to take steps against illegal car parking on roads and footpaths.’
Besides, the DMP authorities from February, 2007 imposed a ban on honking on Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue stretching from Shahbagh crossing to Shaheed Jahangir Gate.
Since May 6, 2007, it was extended to different areas, including Shaheed Jahangir Gate to Abdullahpur in Uttara via Mohakhali, Kemal Ataturk Avenue to Phoenix Building via Gulshan-1 and Gulshan-2, Gabtali to Azimpur via Russell Square, Bijoy Sarani to Mohammadpur Traffic Office via Lake Road, Sheraton Hotel crossing to Kakrail crossing, Matsya Bhaban to Rainbow crossing via Kakrail Church, Science Laboratory to Matsya Bhaban via Shahbagh and Matsya Bhaban to Golap Shah mazar via old High Court crossing and Phoenix Road.
At the beginning, traffic sergeants filed over 2,000 cases against the violators, but now there is no effective enforcement of the ban.
A traffic engineer of a government agency said, ‘We take many good decisions regarding to traffic management, but cannot implement those decisions. As a result, the decisions that came from meetings don’t bring any fruitful result.’
When contacted a traffic division top official said manpower for traffic management is very less than that of requirement. ‘All the sergeants and traffic police have to work on priority basis and keep themselves busy with traffic management.’
Sayedur Rahman, deputy commissioner of Traffic Division (south) of DMP told New Age, ‘The enforcement of laws is on as usual. Every day cases are filed against illegal parking and violating the honking ban.’
Yet people are violating the rules. An increase in the fine for violating the motor rules may prevent people from the violation of rules, he added.
A traffic sergeant in Paltan area said, ‘The trend for violating the traffic rules is very high among the drivers. We have filed many cases, but they don’t pay heed because the amount of fine is very minimal.’
A traffic police said bus owners association would have to take steps as their drivers abide by traffic rules. ‘Most bus companies or owners employ drivers on contractual basis who frequently violate traffic rules to save times.’
The government has taken an initiative to amend the motor vehicles ordinance 1983 with an increase in fine apart from a citizen’s charter. The amendment process was at final stage, a BRTA official said.

Unknown said...

Restriction on rickshaw movement fails to stop traffic jam in city

Imposing ban on rickshaw movement on different roads of the capital could not stop traffic jam rather it accentuated the economic woes of people, pushed more rickshaw pullers into poverty trap and created transport problem for a large number of commuters.

Hundreds of poor people in the capital mange their bare necessities of life by pulling rickshaw. The earnings of the rickshaw pullers, however meager, could make dent on poverty and alleviate sufferings of their family members in the countryside at least to some extent. Rickshaw pullers of the Dhaka city remit about tk 2 crore to their village homes each month. But imposition of ban on rickshaw movement on certain roads in the capital has robbed a good number of rickshaw pullers of their means of livelihood, according to Human Resource Centre (HRC).

Syed Saiful Alam
Save The Environment Movement