Since the government implemented a ban on CNG-run auto-rickshaws and other slow-moving vehicles on the country's highways in 2015, many rural and suburban residents have been facing difficulties in their movement. They can use the autos on feeder roads up to the highways only to find 'thus far and no farther'. Their not-too-far-off destinations thus remain off-limit to them.
Surprisingly, the government has not succeeded to enforce the ban fully as some parts of Dhaka-Chittagong, Dhaka-Khulna, Dhaka-Sylhet, Dhaka-Barisal, Dhaka-Tangail and Dhaka-Mymensingh highways occasionally witness rickshaws, push-carts and even cattle as law enforcement personnel appear to be lenient.
The police often seize CNG-powered auto-rickshaws from different highways and charge drivers unreasonable fines worth Tk 5000-7000 on an average just to release such vehicles. This should not be considered part of a drive to enforce the ban. On the other hand, auto-rickshaw operators should not create a scene because 3,570 kilometres out of 250,000 kilometres of roads and highways have only been made off-limits to the three-wheelers and non-motorised vehicles.
To justify the ban, policymakers argue that auto-rickshaws can cause frequent accidents and disruptions on highways. Recent reports say that road accidents annually damage Tk 50 million property and 2.0 per cent of the country's GDP with an average death toll of 4,000. Only 15-20 per cent of road accidents are caused by CNG-run auto-rickshaws.
Three wheelers need to use highways in order to reach nearby areas amid a lack of service lanes beside highways. The government is supposed to construct service lanes along the newly-built four-lane highways to avoid conflict between slow and speedy vehicles. For the time being, auto-rickshaw drivers are allowed to use highways between 6:00am and 8:00am for refuelling from highway-side gas stations.
Adequate measures should also be taken to balance the manpower crisis experienced by the BRTA in monitoring existing highway regulations as forbidden vehicles continue to violate the rules.
Some passengers allege that operators are not only running such illegal vehicles but charge high fares. The government should develop the overall road transport system and upgrade the highways into four-lane ones and designate separate lanes or alternative roads for small vehicles so that the problems with CNG-powered auto-rickshaws as well as untold sufferings of travelling public are addressed.
It is to be noted that feeder roads serve as a life-line of the rural economy. Different market places on the highways or nearby should be connected through such lanes to allow vans and other slow-moving vehicles to carry goods.