Dhaka is fast becoming one of the largest cities in the world. With 13 million people it is also one of the most traffic congested. By 2020, the megacity's population is expected to rise to 22 - 25 million.
This rapid population growth together with the limited space available for new transport infrastructure will further aggravate the heavy congestion in Dhaka. Bangladesh already has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the world.
Upgrading transport services for more efficient use of limited space is therefore critical for ensuring people’s mobility, improving their quality of life, and boosting economic growth.
One of the first World Bank projects to ease transport congestion in Dhaka
The Dhaka Urban Transport Project (DUTP) was one of the first World Bank projects aimed at easing the complex transport problems facing Bangladesh's capital. As the city's urban transport problems cannot be solved by any single project, this project focused on the most urgent infrastructure issues.
The World Bank’s aim was to help the Government of Bangladesh develop, refine, and implement appropriate strategies for managing road traffic and services in Dhaka. It also aimed to assist in the preparation of an urban transport policy and a 20-year strategic transport plan for the Dhaka Metropolitan Area (DMA). The project closed on June 30, 2005.
The project has brought about some marked improvements:
- Phasing out of two-stroke three wheelers has improved air quality;
- Pedestrian footbridges and footways have been built as a first effort to make movement easier for the city’s poorest people who can only afford to walk;
- Flood damaged roads have been rehabilitated;
- Traffic conditions have improved with better traffic management on arterial corridors and at major junctions with some 60 traffic signals installed;
- The Mohakhali Flyover, the single largest contract under the project, is easing traffic congestions and delays;
- Some public transport services along project corridors have improved;
- Three major inter-district bus terminals have been rehabilitated;
- National vehicle and driver licensing systems have been computerized and agency personnel trained;
- The regulatory framework for public transport has been reviewed, a policy for enforcing parking restrictions drafted, and bus route-franchising pilots proposed to improve bus services;
- An urban transport policy, a plan for institutional strengthening and capacity building and a strategic transport plan for improving transport services in Dhaka have been developed for the 2005-2025 period.
Despite the many improvements, however, these changes have not reached the levels intended at the project design stage. This is because the project’s components had to be restructured at the time of the mid-term review in early 2002, and were reduced by 40 percent due to unsatisfactory progress. Also, the project had limited impact on strengthening the DMA's institutional and policy framework to address transport planning and coordination issues.
Challenges – the introduction of rickshaw-free transport corridors
The ground realities in Dhaka have made the project’s implementation complex and challenging. While the conversion of one pilot corridor to a rickshaw-free zone has reduced travel time by about 30 percent per trip, and studies show that most travelers in this zone support this conversion, some segments of the population, especially rickshaw-pullers who plied these routes, and some travelers who relied on rickshaws for short-distance trips, have been adversely affected.
In response, the World Bank proposed a safety net for affected rickshaw pullers, and informed the government that it would only support a continuation of the policy of conversion of arterial roads to rickshaw-free operations if it can be demonstrated that:
the aggregate positive impacts of rickshaw-free arterial roads outweigh the aggregate negative impacts
there is broad stakeholder support
the Bank’s safeguard policies for mitigation of adverse impacts on affected persons are fully complied with. Specifically, the road space freed by rickshaws should be used by public transport facilities, such as buses.
The design and funding of the safety net is currently being finalized by the Government of Bangladesh. It is expected to include a US$15 million revolving fund to support training in alternative livelihoods and the provision of safety nets for affected rickshaw pullers.