Traffic in Dhaka. Arne Hoel/World Bank
Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, has been dubbed as “the traffic capital of the world” because of its chaotic traffic and frequent traffic jams. Some say Dhaka needs more roads, because only 7% of land is covered by roads in Dhaka, while in many developed capital cities it is more than 20%. That argument may hold some water.
For many years, many cities in the world did try to build more roads to relief traffic jams after motorization took place. However, no city has been able to build itself out of congestion. In fact, allocating more urban land to roads means you have to reduce the portion of land allocated for other urban functions, such as housing, industrial, commercial and entertainment. What has also been widely recognized is that building more roads does NOT reduce traffic congestion. It would actually induce more motorized traffic and thus create more traffic congestion.
A few weeks ago, I travelled to Gujarat to attend the project launch workshop for the second Gujarat State Highway Project (GSHP-II). It is a return visit to Gujarat after my last visit in 2008. I was the task team leader for the first Gujarat State Highway Project (GSHP) during 2005-2008, so I knew the state quite well and I expected to see a lot of changes during this new visit. But when I got there, I was still surprised.
Our team first went on a site visit first. We passed one road section which was improved in 2006 under the GSHP. The road will looked new. My colleague Arnab Bandyopadhyay, who is the Project Leader for GSHP-II, asked the engineers from the Roads and Buildings Department (R&BD) whether they have rehabilitated the road recently. The answer was no. “You must be kidding,” I said to them. “How can an 8-year old road still look so new?” But they were very firm. “No. We have not done any new works on those GSHP roads since they were constructed.”
Buy a leather case for your wife’s smartphone on Amazon, select shipping from China with an estimated delivery time of 4-6 weeks, and then be pleasantly surprised when it turns up on your Virginia doorstep in 11 days. The marvels of the modern age – of technology, globalization, and shrinking distances.
Where does South Asia stand on export delivery? Figure 1 illustrates that compared to other economic units around the globe, it is a lot more difficult to trade with(in) SAFTA (South Asia Free Trade Agreement). It also shows that bureaucratic hurdles and the time it takes to trade go hand-in-hand. While the region does relatively well on trade with Europe or East Asia, intra-South Asian trade has remained low and costly. It costs South Asian countries more to trade with their immediate neighbors, compared to their costs to trade with distant Brazil (see below)! In fact, it is cheaper for South Asian countries to export to anywhere else in the world than to export to each other (Figure 3). In other words, South Asia has converted its proximity into a handicap.
A colleague of mine once told me that professionals who were responsible for designing public transport policies never used public transport themselves. This thought has been entrenched in my mind ever since. As a transport professional myself, I always try to use public transport whichever part of the world I visit, be it London, Delhi, Accra, Helsinki, or Colombo. It is one of the best ways to get a sense of how the public transport system operates in a particular city.
I joined the World Bank Nepal office some three years ago. I booked my temporary residence in a hotel through one of my friends. I had no idea how far the hotel was from my office so I took a taxi on my first day. Then I discovered that my hotel was close to a public transport route so I started using microbuses to commute to the office. On my way to work the microbus would never be full, so I could travel comfortably. But I hated my return journey as the microbuses would already be filled up at Shahid Gate and I would never get seats. Often I had to change buses and sometimes, if I stayed at work late, I had to take taxis as there were no buses after dark.
A lot of my Nepali colleagues also shared their experiences with me. A male colleague told me how he was mugged once. I also heard many unpleasant stories from my female colleagues on the experience of using public transport. I have to admit after this, I used public transport less frequently.