Bangladesh struggles to control notorious traffic

DHAKA Fri Oct 31, 2008 4:51am EDT

A view of traffic on a street on the first day after a week-long nationwide transport blockade in Dhaka, November 26, 2006. REUTERS/Rafiqur Rahman

A view of traffic on a street on the first day after a week-long nationwide transport blockade in Dhaka, November 26, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Rafiqur Rahman

DHAKA (Reuters Life!) - Schools in the Bangladesh capital have been asked to start an hour earlier each day in a bid to reduce the city's notorious traffic jams.

Authorities want educational institutions in Dhaka to open at 8 a.m. each day, hoping that the earlier hour will allow business commuters to make it to work on time, when offices open at 9 a.m.

The city of 11 million frequently grinds to a halt during rush hour. Badly maintained roads and vehicles, poor driver discipline and a lack of investment on infrastructure are all to blame.

An estimated 500,000O registered cars, buses, trucks, motorbikes and motorized rickshaws ply Dhaka's streets every day -- and authorities believe there are many unregistered vehicles on the streets as well.

Munira Begum's daily commute is typical of the journey faced by many city residents as she sat in a long traffic jam in the Farmgate area, trying to get to her university 3 kms (2 miles) away.

"God knows how long will it take," she asked, as the streets were clogged with buses, mini-buses and taxis.

The congestion causes a $2.18 billion loss to the impoverished country's economy annually, officials say.

The interim government has been working on a $5.2 billion 20-year plan to improve Dhaka's traffic systems that includes underground railways, elevated motorways, several flyovers, footbridges and new roads.

"We hope the plan will help control the city's notorious traffic jams that seem to stop everything but the clocks," said Mahbubur Rahman, secretary of the communications ministry.

"But if and when it would be implemented is a big question," said another official. Similar plans by previous governments failed to mature, he said.

(Writing by Anis Ahmed; Editing by David Fox)

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