To put it bluntly, the government’s drive against “gate lock” and “seating” services is another example of the government treating the symptoms which make Dhaka city uninhabitable, while the city dies a painful death.
If you’ve never been in Dhaka, this is what it looks like: Too many people, too many cars, too much traffic, the footpaths are not for walking, the roads are not worthy of driving, there are no rules or regulations, corruption is rampant.
If you live in Dhaka, but have never used buses, then this is what it looks like for those who do: Overpowering heat inside a tin box filled with scores of people squished together, endlessly waiting in traffic (and in not-traffic, because they’re trying to get enough passengers), rain dripping down from the cracks in the roof, and sweaty linings on the seat covers if you’re lucky enough to get a seat.
Although words don’t do justice to the ostentatious decrepitude of public transport, it is obvious, nonetheless, that the picture is the exact opposite of progress and development that many have been peddling.
Apparently, this picture also paints an obvious solution.
Because there are so many problems with public transport, the clearest solution would, of course, be to take the buses which offer an improved level of service, such as promising a seat for a higher fare, and banning them altogether, right?
No. The solutions provided by this country to fix our problems have ceased to make sense.
Problem: Extremists want a statue removed. Solution: Don’t quash the extremists, listen to their demands!
Problem: Public higher education institutes do not provide enough places for the students of this nation so they are forced to go to private universities at an exponentially higher cost. Solution: Impose a 15% VAT!
Problem: Your entire public transport system is screwed. Solution: Get rid of the “seating” services!
For the uninitiated, let me clarify on these so-called “seating” or “gate lock” services.
Suppose you are going to the airport but you can’t afford a CNG.You have two large suitcases with you. Where, on a local bus, will you be able to place these suitcases?
Nowhere, because it barely has room for you.
Exploiting the class divide
This is one of many scenarios where these services come in handy.
But the most obvious handiness is in the clear class divide that our country suffers from. Yes, they separate the poor from the slightly less poor.
But, for the moment, I’ll posit that’s a good thing. Since the government isn’t doing anything to diminish the class divide, and there are too many people clambering for space, dividing up the bus-using public into certain categories makes sense.
If you’re going to own capitalism, might as well own it good. You’re rich so you can afford better buses?
A big reason for the persistence of these problems lies in the fact that local thugs and corrupt officials continue to reign supreme, impeding not the illusion, but the actual path of progress
Why nothing changes
Go for it. Regulate it if you want a share of the pie.
What the city needs is a veritable overhaul of its public transport services.
This doesn’t just mean buses — which we have somehow managed to make the most convenient and least convenient of all services.
This means improving roads, reducing traffic, implementing traffic rules and regulations, having a unified public transport service, ensuring that CNGs use their meters, ensuring that buses use tickets, bus lanes, cycle lanes, et cetera.
None of this is being done to the extent that we could hope for true change. And blaming the government solely for the problems wouldn’t be right either.
A big reason for the persistence of these problems lies in the fact that local thugs and corrupt officials continue to reign supreme, impeding not the illusion, but the actual path of progress.
These are the same people who own the bus services which run with such disregard for life and rules on the streets, the same people who continue to protect hawkers on the footpaths because they need them for chanda, they are the ones who rule these little localities with an iron fist, forcefully taking over land with death threats and violence.
These are the people who need to be stopped. And though the government isn’t wholly to blame, who else are we supposed to turn to?
Are we expected to take the law in our own hands, and descend into anarchy?
Or do we need a more empowered government, but one that does not use its power for the success of its own party, but for the nation?
Both seem unlikely, if not impossible.
It’s funny how buses are a microcosm for problems the entire city, in fact, the entire country faces.
But if this continues, if a benevolent and powerful government doesn’t take hold soon, this city will keep taking in more and more people, taking in more and more punches, until it’s knocked out, flat on the floor, gasping for its last dying breath.
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @snrasul.