A tale of broken promises
THE Awami League, the lead component in the ruling political alliance, promised the electorate, prior to the 2008 general elections, a number of decidedly ambitious projects, aimed at easing the apparently implacable traffic congestion in the capital Dhaka and providing commuters with an affordable and efficient public transport system. ‘Underground railway, mono or circular rail and navigable river route around Dhaka will be constructed to solve the public transportation problem and traffic jam in the capital,’ so said the AL election manifesto. It now seems that the AL-led government is nowhere near coming good on the promises. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Sunday, most of the projects including the Mass Rapid Transit Line 6 with an elevated metro railway as its main component, the Bus Rapid Transit Project and the Jatrabari-Gulistan flyover have made very little progress to date. In fact, the Tk 21,985-crore metro rail project was approved only on December 18, 2012, following a prolonged wrangle over its proposed route. One senior official of the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority feared that the construction may start as late as in 2016. Moreover, the Jatrabari flyover project has limped along and, after many missed deadlines, is expected to be open to traffic in April. Meanwhile, the circular waterway project crash-landed not long after its takeoff, with lukewarm response from people to water bus forcing the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation to suspend the service in February 2012.
True, such big projects as mono rail or the Jatrabari-Gulistan flyover take time to take off; after all, they involve a huge amount of money, not to speak of personnel and logistics. Hence, it may be quite unrealistic to expect the projects to be completed within the five-year tenure of a government. However, different experts complain, these projects have been blighted from the very beginning by serious coordination failures, which ultimately points to the incumbents’ failure to think these projects through. Coordination failure has not been the only problem impeding realisation of the promised improvement in the public transport system. Even in relatively easy and attainable targets of, say, getting all road unworthy public transports, including buses and minibuses, have run aground, thanks to sustained monitoring and enforcement failures. The same has been the case with streamlining the compressed natural gas-run auto-rickshaws, which are supposed to go by the government-determined fare rate but continue to charge passengers exorbitantly. The least said about the government’s hopping from one experiment to the other — e.g. designation of lane, switching back and forth between manual and automatic traffic signals, etc — to regulate traffic movement in the capital the better.
As one urban and regional planning expert pointed out, the problems that the city faces ‘will not be resolved without a political commitment.’ Here, it seems, lies the crunch. The incumbents have made lofty promises alright; the commitment to come good on those promises may have been missing from the very beginning.
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