Bangladesh is turning to technology to improve road safety. Is it sustainable?

CONTINUED TO BE SKEPTICAL

Although the automated surveillance system is sure to add a new dimension to traffic management, the government’s questionable track record of implementing other projects in this area casts a long shadow over its latest endeavor, according to Prof Shamsul Hoque.

Noting the “lack of transparency and accountability” at some of the former companies, the expert fears that the purchases made as part of the ITS projects could end up being wasted.

According to Prof. Shamsul, several road safety initiatives have been taken in the past, particularly by the traffic police. Numerous signs and signal lights have been installed across the city of Dhaka as the prospect of traffic management using digital methods has been hailed by the authorities. But the plan to switch from an analogue to a digital model of traffic management fell by the wayside after a few months. Ultimately, traffic in the megacity is controlled analogously.

Highlighting plans to introduce a digital traffic light system on the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway to reduce road accidents, he said: “Initially, there was a glut of product and equipment purchases without any transparency and accountability. When these inferior products stopped working within a few days, Tk 100,000 of funding was requested for Tk 10,000 worth of cameras.

“Then it was said that you didn’t have to spend so much money on the equipment and the program was discontinued.”

Prof Shamsul believes the country’s road management system is very “fragile” and stressed “institutional capacity building” to achieve sustainable progress.

“There must be responsibility. But we haven’t developed this level of professionalism here yet. We lack the institutional capacity.”

Drawing on his previous experiences that fueled his concerns about the new projects, he recalled an initiative to implement four intelligent signals for traffic management in Dhaka. But after four years of work, it was decided that the project could not go ahead unless the rickshaws were removed from Dhaka’s streets.

“Why couldn’t they see that it wouldn’t be possible to implement the project without removing rickshaws before recording? The realization came only after the procurement of numerous materials. That’s what I mean by lack of institutional capacity,” he said.

He fears the new projects could end up following the same path as some of their predecessors.

“In addition, there is the question of personnel and mentality in order to operate the ITS technology properly. Digital technology projects cannot be implemented with an analogue mindset. This project will not be sustainable without a skilled workforce,” he said.

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