Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sustainable Transport for Developing Countries and STP initiatives for Dhaka City

Dear Sir or Madam,

On behalf of Roads for People, a movement dedicated to the development of an eco-friendly and sustainable transport system in Dhaka City, I would like to draw your attention to some of the features of your recently concluded symposium.

First of all I would like to congratulate the organisers of the symposium for undertaking initiatives for sustainable transport development in developing countries. However, it is a matter of deep concern that in the name of sustainable transport development, the forum was mainly used to promote unsustainable, capital intensive, car-friendly and anti-fuel free transport policy directives, notably the Strategic Transport Plan (STP) for Dhaka City. The STP initiatives cannot be regarded as sustainable transport initiatives under any circumstances because the approach:

· Shows total disregard to the majority of trips, i.e. all short trips (76% of the total trips) and fuel free transport (48% of the trips);

· Takes a stand against sustainable transport modes by banning fuel free transport and restricting intercity buses and railways, etc.;

· Invests the maximum amount of resources (237% more) for the less optimal transport solution;

· Promotes car friendly and unsustainable policy directives like change of modal share in favour of cars, promotion of more car parking facilities, etc.;

· Promotes auto-friendly, inefficient and environmentally disastrous projects like the Eastern Bypass, elevated expressways and other unnecessary road projects, defying the findings of the STP study itself;

· Develops transport alternatives considering only the supply side of the problem under the assumption of unconstrained demand, which would likely promote unsustainable use of scarce resources;

· Takes important transport policy decisions solely on the basis of arbitrary reasoning without any valid supporting scientific analysis;

· Promotes long distance trips and encourages the need for more travel, which is likely to induce more congestion and pollution;

· Provides a disproportionate amount of resources for car-friendly and capital intensive projects and allocates inadequate provisions and funding for sustainable transport systems such as walking, fuel-free vehicles (bicycles and rickshaws), public transit and an integrated waterway system;

· Promotes inequality and social injustice.

A detailed review of the main features of the STP and ongoing unsustainable transport interventions is attached herewith, which you may find useful.
In this connection, it might be appropriate to learn lessons from the dismal failure of Dhaka Urban Transport Project (DUTP) (DUTP 2006, Bari and Efroymson 2006). The approach adopted in the DUTP was very much similar to that of the recommended solutions of STP. Key features of the project include: construction of a number of flyovers, banning of fuel-free transport from main roads, forcing the pedestrians to take elevated crossings, widening of roads at the expense of footpaths, etc. It may be mentioned here that the total travel time disbenefits of the project were at least twenty times more than the tiny savings of travel times. The moral from the dismal failure of DUTP is that in planning for a multimodal transport system, there is no scope to take decisions on the basis of prejudices while defying standard approaches of transport appraisal. Yet a similar unscientific approach is evident both in DUTP and in STP.
The main conclusion of the project is that there is no justification for wasting public money in the name of so-called development projects, such as DUTP, which cause colossal damage to the economy (well over Tk 7.78 billion per year), reduce mobility of people and goods, divide neighbourhoods and sever service facilities, inflict environmental degradation, destroy the basic fabric of sustainable development, deny vulnerable sections of the society their fundamental rights to accessibility and income, promote social inequality, and exacerbate poverty and hunger. An independent assessor appointed by the World Bank (World Bank 2007) also came down heavily on the justification of the key initiative of the project which attempted to ban fuel-free transport in favour of a tiny minority of car owners, who represent less than 5% of the population.

The dual role currently being played by a section of academics related to some higher learning institutions in Bangladesh is a matter of serious concern. These academics seem to be directly involved in formulating unsustainable, capital-intensive and environmentally disastrous policy directives like the banning of fuel-free transport, promotion of more free car parking facilities, and construction of flyovers and elevated expressways. It is difficult to understand how it could be appropriate to, one the one hand, be key members of STP or DUTP, while at the same time being directly involved in lucrative consultancy services for these wasteful and capital-intensive infrastructure projects. Such consultants would seem to assign more time to promoting lucrative infrastructure projects rather than for research and academic activities. Such behaviour not only represents a serious conflict of interest but also acts as a hindrance for the congenial development of academic and research activities, particularly at the postgraduate level. I would like to draw the attention of such malpractices to the University Grant Commission and other relevant authorities and hope that concerned academics will keep them above criticism and uphold the dignity and sanctity of higher learning institutions of Bangladesh.

The use of a sustainable transport development forum to promote such unsustainable STP or DUTP policy directives represents both insult and injury to the genuine movement for sustainable transport development. Those of us in that movement strongly deplore such practice and hope that organisers will in future be careful to avoid allowing their forum to promote such misguided transport initiatives.

We also hope that the sponsors of the symposium would constitute an enquiry committee comprising an international panel of experts on sustainable transport development to review the activities of the so-called sustainable transport development symposium and undertake requisite corrective measures to avoid such controversies in future and hence to uphold the dignity of the basic philosophy of sustainable transport development, that is, to promote low-cost, eco-friendly, space- and energy-efficient transport that recognizes the rights of the majority rather than prioritizing the elite.


Mahabubul Bari
International Expert on Transportation Infrastructure
Independent Adviser to the Ministry of Infrastructure
Republic of Rwanda
Post Box: 4989

Mobile: +250 0341 6508

www.dhaka-rickshaw.blogspot.com/ Dhaka Rickshaw
www.dhaka-transport.blogspot.com/ Pro-people Transport Plan www.dhakanewspapers.blogspot.com/ All Newspapers on one click

Syed Saiful Alam
Save The Environment Movement
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