Govt mulls Dhaka circular waterway transportation relaunch after botched attempts

  • Kamal Hossain Talukder, Senior Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-10-24 00:36:33 BdST

The waterway transport services on the rivers surrounding Dhaka are getting another shot at revival after several failed bids.

With the city roads increasingly overburdened with huge traffic, there is a growing clamour for effective measures to develop a long-lasting circular waterway.

The government has been planning to relaunch the services following the demand of the passengers, said State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury.

The previous initiatives lacked professionalism and accountability, said Professor Md Shamsul Haque of BUET.

And the latest attempt may suffer the same fate if the problems are not identified and ironed out, he believes.

A water taxi servive, first of its kind in the city, was introduced on Old Dhaka-Gabtoli route in 2004.

Later in 2010, two water buses were brought to the route but the services stopped after some time due to glitches in the water buses and a lack of passengers.

In July 2013, six water buses began to provide services, but the project stalled again.

The government launched water bus services on Narayanganj-Kanchpur-Tongi route, but it again discontinued operations.

The services made it easy for the people to travel between the western part of the city to  Sadarghat and Swarighat, Keraniganj, Kholamura, Bosila, Gabtoli and Ashulia. The people from the east could travel from Narayanganj to Kanchpur, Demra, Rajakhali, Beraid Bazar, Icchapura and Tongi.

It could have reduced the traffic on roads had the services run effectively.

GOVERNMENT’S VIEW

Dhaka circular waterway transportation faces some hurdles including some bridges hanging low, said State Minister Chowdhury.

Small water transports can sail under the bridges but not the big ones, he said.

The government wants to re-introduce the circular waterway with new water buses that are suitable to carry passengers, says State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury.

The government wants to re-introduce the circular waterway with new water buses that are suitable to carry passengers, says State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury.

bdnews24.com found a total of 13 bridges hindering the services on the four rivers surrounding Dhaka.

These are the first and second Buriganga bridges, Bosila, Amin Bazar, Birulia, Dhaur, Protyasha, Kamarpara, Abdullahpur, Tongi Railway, Kayetpara, Sultana Kamal Bridge in Demra and Kanchpur Bridge.

Water transports cannot sail under these bridges, except the two Buriganga bridges and Kachpur bridge during monsoon, said an official at Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority.

State Minister Khalid Mahmud said the authorities were cleaning polythene, plastic and other waste materials on the riverbeds, and dredging the rivers to make it possible for the vessels to move below the bridges.

“The authorities are consulting foreign experts to find ways for multidimensional use of the rivers surrounding Dhaka city," he said.

“River pollution and encroachment will reduce once the master plan by the prime minister is implemented. There’ll be an inter-ministerial meeting on the bridges,” he added.

The state minister blamed the water buses for not being suitable to carry passengers.

People are using trawlers to travel through waterways, which means they will choose water buses if those are made passenger-friendly, he said.

Some of the water buses made to ply in the circular water way now carry passengers from Sadarghat to Keraniganj.

Some of the water buses made to ply in the circular water way now carry passengers from Sadarghat to Keraniganj.

“To draw enough passengers to the circular waterway, we need to enhance the quality of the water buses. We’re working on that.

“The circular waterway has not shut down but is being used to carry passengers and goods through it, though on a limited scale. As we’ve taken the pulse of the passengers, we’ll get a water vehicle accordingly and relaunch the services on the route.”

WHAT EXPERTS SAY

Waterway transports cannot exist on their own but in coordination with the road transport system, said Prof Haque, a public transport expert.

He advised studying urban water transport system of the developed countries to see how they are running the services.

“They (passengers) can catch a water transport without much trouble all the time in these countries,” he said.

“A professional will never partially solve the transport problem of a passenger. It never is useful for the public. Here (in Bangladesh) all projects are made to address an issue partially and not in a coordinated way. This is because we are not professionals,” Prof Haque said.

The circular waterway project was based on only water transport and it was made without considering coordination with the road transport system, he said.

“How would it attract people if someone has to walk to Victoria Park to grab a road transport after getting off at Sadarghat?” he asked.

Some of the water buses made to ply in the circular water way now carry passengers from Sadarghat to Keraniganj.

Some of the water buses made to ply in the circular water way now carry passengers from Sadarghat to Keraniganj.

“The waterway is unable to reduce the traffic on road despite having potentials; this is only due to the lack of connection between the two systems.”

The expert does not see any possibility of success in the renewed efforts.

The circular waterway lacks space for the transports to move during monsoon, he said.

“Why did they spend the money then? There’s no accountability here. This culture of a lack of accountability must change. We’ll see good results when the authorities are accountable.”

The BUET professor made some recommendations to make the initiatives successful.

Besides the infrastructural change, the authorities must prevent boats from crossing the rivers as they obstruct the movement of speedy water vessels.

Citing the Hoogly river transport services in India, he said boats are not allowed to cross the river.

Prof Haque suggested ensuring a proper system in which speedy water transports can travel on both sides of the rivers, just as vehicles do on roads.