Dhaka: In the crowded city of rickshaws, three-wheelers run by battery bring more chaos

The weak brake system despite a high-speed lead these electric rickshaws to cause accidents frequently

Golam Mortuja Antubdnews24.com
Published : 19 Feb 2024, 10:00 PM
Updated : 19 Feb 2024, 10:00 PM

Many have been demanding a total ban on the battery-run three-wheelers ruling the alleyways of Dhaka for the dangers of the light vehicles moving at a high-speed.

Others argue that the city known to many across the world for its rickshaws pedalled by men is better with the electric rickshaws since they are faster and can travel longer.

The weak brake system despite a high-speed lead these electric rickshaws to cause accidents frequently.

The drivers also tend to take the main roads, often on the wrong lanes, despite a ban.

Traffic police say they are working on ways to prevent these vehicles from plying the streets of Dhaka following the law, but sometimes they are exempted from the ban for “humane reasons”.

Owners and drivers, however, allege that there is nothing “humane” in the exemption as they pay the police.

Munibur Rahman, additional commissioner of traffic at Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said there is no denying that the banned battery-run rickshaws are running on the streets of the Bangladesh capital despite a High Court ruling.

“But our traffic management has some shortcomings — the main one being a manpower crisis. Our men are posted at the intersections of the main thoroughfares only. We can’t give people to all the alleys. It’s impossible for us.”

All the divisions of DMP’s traffic department have been instructed to take action whenever they see a battery-run rickshaw, Munibur said. “We’re dumping these vehicles. More than 100 battery-run rickshaws face action daily on an average.”

“But you need to know that we make exemptions to show sympathy in some cases, such as a patient being taken to hospital, a mother taking her child to school, or a rickshaw dropping a patient outside a pharmacy. We’ve asked our personnel to be humane in such cases without creating traffic issues.”

Munibur pointed out that the streets of Dhaka, a densely populated city of over 20 million people, has streets covering only seven to eight percent of its area, while the amount is supposed to be 25 percent.

“We need to consider people’s socio-economic condition and other issues while enforcing the law,” he said.

Police said organisations of people with disabilities got the electric rickshaws approved first, but later ordinary rickshaw-pullers started running these vehicles.

A group of drivers blocked Banani Road No. 11 for around four hours on Feb 4, demanding batter-run rickshaws are allowed in the city. Some of them were on crutches.

Abdul Momen, a deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said the rickshaws are allowed only for people who have disability certificates from the government’s Department of Social Services, but normal people are driving them. “And when police impound these vehicles not being driven by people with disabilities, they are sending the people with disabilities.”

He said the electric rickshaws are not being allowed on the main roads for three weeks following complaints by the Gulshan-Banani Society over some recent incidents.

The drivers of electric vehicles staged protests, which sometimes turned violent, in Mirpur, Demra, Gabtoli, Mohammadpur and other areas over the past year.

QR CODE FOR EXTORTION DETAILS

In Mirpur, people with political powers have clashed with electric rickshaw drivers several times in recent years over extortion.

The extortionists even used QR Code tokens for every electric rickshaw so that they can check if the owners or drivers paid extortions at Tk 1,600 per month.

Khorshed Alam, president of Pallabi Battery-run Rickshaw Owners Association, said the extortion stopped after some of the extortionists were arrested over the murder of businessman Shahin Uddin in May 2021.

The extortionists were back again before the Jan 7 election and they threatened the owners and drivers to resume paying Tk 2,000 a month after the polls, Khorshed said. The owners and drivers were attacked for objecting to the demand in some cases, he said.

According to Khorshed, the extortionists’ people are always on the streets and they check the QR Code, which are printed on tin boards and put beneath the seats, by using their mobile phones to see if the extortions have been paid.

In case of non-payment, the electric rickshaws’ wires are cut off, he said.
At least six rickshaw drivers were injured in recent attacks by the extortionists, according to him.

Khorshed accused local Jubo League leader Bihari Sheikh Mohammad Ali Addu of running the racket of extortionists.

“There are around 7,000 battery-run rickshaws in Pallabi. If they take Tk 2,000 for each of these vehicles, there will be Tk 14 million a month only in this area,” said Khorshed.

Addu claimed he protested against the disorderly movement of electric rickshaws because he thought it was his social responsibility to speak out against the vehicles causing accidents.

“Now I am facing harassment for protesting,” he alleged.

Apurbo Hasan, the chief of Pallabi Police Station, claimed no one complained about such extortions. “A ring tried to extort the rickshaw owners. Police stopped that,” he said.

He also said Addu has no case against him.

‘LESS EFFORT, MORE PROFIT’

Mohammad Zoha used to pedal a rickshaw and pay the owner Tk 100 per day.

Now he pays the owner Tk 300 as he drives an electric rickshaw.
“Drivers prefer battery rickshaw because these can make log trips, just like an autorickshaw.

The fare is also similar to autorickshaws. It’s enough if a driver gets 2-3 long trips,” he said.

The drivers interviewed by bdnews24.com said they earn up to Tk 1,000 a day.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO ELECTRIC RICKSHAWS

A traffic police officer, requesting anonymity, said the electric rickshaw owners and drivers contact local politicians whenever police try to enforce the ban on such vehicles.

“And the politicians cannot make a sudden decision on the income of so many people. That’s why  we can’t take tough action against them.”

The police officer observed that the government has no other way but to legalise these electric rickshaws.

“Licences can be arranged for them, so that they can be punished for violating traffic rules.”