The last blog post on BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) did not include much of individual empowerment.The implementation of BRT relies on the willingness of the government,city planners and other heavyweight authorities that I do not know names of.We all know what discussions without some individual empowerment are-talk shows.
Yet, I was very hesitant to write about the accessible alternatives because I myself am yet to adapt. I’m not a cyclist/biker.At this moment, not much of a public transport user either. In my defense,I did not need either cycling or driving in Montreal, my last location of seven years, thanks to its wonderful public transit.I’ve *just* gathered all biking gear to teach my old bones new tricks.I do hope to test my cycling limits,at my own pace and I do not intend to poke around innovative transportation during ‘visits’ to Dhaka.
After much deliberation,I realized, the post does not have to be about what I do. It could be about what extremely resourceful individuals (that is Bangladeshis,by definition) do to deal with current transportation scene.Learning to view low tech solutions as not only viable but ‘appropriate’ alternatives, is in fact a very important evolution which I’ve traversed.In addition to that, somebody who is more entrepreneurial may benefit from the palette of alternatives,compiled in one place.Presenting is definitely much less controversial than preaching!
While we wait (and eventually vote!) for a visionary leader like Enrique Peñalosa to implement BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) ,there are alternatives to car,that majority of Bangladeshi use. Some are local inventions,some are tweaked adaptations. The basic principles are simple- human hauled (bike,cargo bike) whenever possible and maximized use of motorized vehicles (bus, carpooling) rest of the time.
The whole world is moving towards pedal power. Before Mozammel haque wonderfully reinstated cycling for commuting, there was Shahidul Alam on his humble wheels,right along with neighborhood newspaper delivery guy, dudhwala and rural grass-root workers; way before biking was considered cool.Perhaps the newspaper delivery guy who wheeled around without a helmet,was the original bicycle activist! Because as it turns out, there is a whole different politics around selling safety gear for cyclists! There are now wide arrays of resources available regarding how to bike around Dhaka condition,or in extreme weather.
Jon Denhartigh,art teacher of American International School/Dhaka (via Google search) decided to deal with his transportation issue by acquiring a rickshaw himself. He customized the rickshaw with paint and made it safer for his pint size passengers with what looks like,a DIY handlebar. Perhaps not suitable for a trip to Jatrabari but perfect for short distances.It often takes an outsider to show how to deal with a problem.
Couple of years ago,on a day of particularly clear roads,I learned the reason behind fluid traffic was that certain schools were closed.Certain schools where each kid comes in a car! Ironically this ‘lesson’ took place while I was sitting in an air conditioned and nearly empty car.It took all these years of living abroad to realize how ‘cutting edge’ the ubiquitous,humble school coaches are.Locally made, inexpensive and thus accessible; efficiently transporting eight kids,quietly, without fossil fuel, natural gas, and without adding to congestion or air pollution.
Who else use similar solutions? Umm…the Danish? Same cargo bikes, same philosophy,tweaked design.
When motorized vehicle is preferred (due to weather,distance, health,age),an efficient use of the vehicle ensures efficient use of road space.Speaking of efficient use of resources, we probably have a head-start on this!
It should probably be mentioned that not all local buses are alike.I quite fondly remember often taking ‘Citi’ bus for a comfortable ride home(Dhanmondi) from university (Dhaka University).Thanks to Muntasir Mamun, an environmental activist ,and his partnership with Urbanlaunchpad, Dhaka now has a bus map!
Vespa is also a safer alternative to motor bikes,until electric bicycles go mainstream.
Lastly, carpooling can tremendously help take pressure off the road.Europeans do it.North Americans are warming up to it.I remember doing it with neighbors,out of convenience.Dhaka can significantly whittle down traffic by carpooling with neighbors or coworkers.Hopefully it’s only a matter of time till a tech entrepreneur launches reliable and safe carpooling collaborative like lyft.
Going back to non motorized mode as primary choice is perhaps in direct contradiction with government’s elitist policies, yet as these innovators have shown, re-adapting old ways of transportation is the way back to the future, starting with a much needed paradigm shift.