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.