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Experts call for outsourcing operation

November 04, 2023 00:00:00

On the occasion of commercial launch of the country's first MRT, the FE talked to experts in different fields including environment and technology to assess the level of achievement and how to overcome the flaws in the upcoming projects:

BUET Professor Dr M Shamsul Hoque appreciated the launch of the first metro rail in the city after overcoming many challenges during the last 12 years but he was critical of the absence of effective and functional operation of the MRT 6 as the right decisions were not taken and the proper role was not played by development partners.

He found that operation and management of the MRT 6 were highly capital-intensive and necessary to get priority for ensuring proper functioning of the city's infrastructural marvel.

As the MRT is the most sophisticated way of developing smart commuter services in the city, its operation is needed to be smart. It should not follow the conventional system of train operation and management like the Bangladesh Railway, he made it clear.

According to Dr Hoque, the MRT 6 operation and management must be outsourced to them who already have the experience in MRTs at the beginning, keeping the task of procurement and recruitment out of the purview.

He criticised the thinking of taking control of procurement and recruitment, a bureaucratic mentality, which would damage the function of the first ever MRTs.

"Very soon, allegations will be there from authorities concerned about behaviour of commuters. They will say the commuters do not abide by rules. It is a traditional way of safeguarding oneself, when the system cannot be operated smoothly," he elaborated.

The professor of BUET Civil Engineering Department also criticised developing the MRTs under the leadership of non-technical people. It was rare in the world despite qualifications for these posts, including Managing Director, clearly stated, requiring 20 years of experience.

'I am very critical about the role of Japan International Cooperation Agency in this connection as they have to take the blame as well later on, if the service is not efficient,' Dr Hoque said.

Citing the example of the 3rd Terminal's operation and maintenance, he said the government already gave the task of the terminal to a third party, internationally reputed to improve the efficiency-level of passenger and cargo operation.

Japan was experienced in the MRT in all aspects and helped build the network with their knowhow and expertise, he elaborated, citing responsibility of JICA experts to ensure efficiency level of MRT's O and M.

He further stated that assisting to develop the MRT-use culture was also a part of responsibility of Japan and its reluctance in this area would prove that the country's interest was only in selling high-breed technology.

He also underlined the need for evaluating the objectives with the reality on the ground in view, when the first metro rail went into operation. He recommended taking the right decisions on the upcoming MRTs.

The DMTCL has now to make sure the MRT 6 functions carrying 60,000 passengers per hour per direction at a speed of 100 kilometres. If it is unable to achieve, its liability must be shared by DMTCL and JICA, he said, recommending that the authorities take right decisions in the upcoming MRTs.

MRT involves high capital investment, so science will say what to do next.

A professional could see the future but a non-technical person could understand it, when an incident took place, he said. Cleanliness, commuter facilities, freeing entry and exit points from illegal occupations, etc., would not be possible at the moment by the DMTCL in view of the behavioural pattern of bureaucrats and officers, he added.

Iqbal Habib, an architect by profession and known as a green activist and town planner, considered opening of the first metro rail in the city as a great achievement in the mass transport system as it was one of the steps taken to uplift transportation to a multimodal system.

He said development of a MRT network was the part of the multimodal transportation philosophy which was prioritised in the country's first strategic transport plan (STP) for providing an affordable commuter-friendly system in the capital city.

Despite the achievement, Iqbal Habib criticised the lack of focus on more priority areas than MRT. The MRT network would miss more than 80 per cent of the commuters, he added.

According to him, developing the MRT 6 first among the priority options proved the importance given to private car users as given in development of flyover and expressway infrastructure.

"The concept of affordability is absent in the planning as the focus was not put on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), bus route franchise (BRF), commuter trains, pedestrian facilities, etc., which had been prioritised in the STP and its revision in 2015 for a comfortable and affordable mass transport system,' he said.

In absence of integration and development of these priority areas by the policy makers, majority commuters remained out of the purview of the multimodal transport system.

"After analysis of daily trips, it is found that the MRT network can include only 10 to 12 per cent of the commuters who belong to the upper middle class, middle and lower middle class. Its fare also shows that the mode cannot ensure affordability of majority commuters,' he observed.

Though the MRT is the first among proposed mass transit systems for the city, Iqbal Habib pointed out that it needed to be assessed how much damage the first MRT caused to environment as well as the Parliament building, green field and agriculture through cutting of trees and visual impairment.

Prioritizing BRF could change the mindset of the people by ensuring comfortable journey for the lower middle and low income people with low investment, he opined.

BRF, BRT or pedestrian-friendly facilities could provide a better solution to the mass transport system, he suggested.

Foreign consultants, engaged in the MRT 6 doing work from design and procurement to construction supervision, also talked to The FE.

As they are not entitled to talk with the media, they shared their experiences preferring not to be identified.

A consultant observed that despite huge challenges like lack of knowledge and understanding, the MRT implementation was possible.

He said that a decision was taken to acquire land at the last moment to ensure adequate space on footpath. It was not possible at the designing stage due to lack of understanding of the executing agency.

As the stations were built as per design at the initial stage, many of those could not be optimized with adequate station facilities, he added.

The MRT 6 suffered from the beginning. It suffered a blow from construction of the Hanif flyover. It shifted its depot to Uttara from Pallabi near Cantonment as well as diverted the route from Bijoy Sarani towards Khamar Bari.

Besides, he also pointed out the plan to extend the MRT 6 up to Kamalapur station which also came later as it was found that the Motijheel station would not be found comfortable by the commuters.

By this time, the authority concerned could understanding the need and took an aggressive decision to acquire land. For this reason, it was possible to demolish over 40 six-to-eight-storied buildings in the shortest possible time.

The consultant also alleged that local experts of the country still had a misconception about MRTs and its design. But he assured that they did not compromise the quality of the structure.

He also agreed to the suggestion for outsourcing O and M of MRT 6 to an internationally reputed company. The Delhi metro could take the responsibility of its first MRT as it earned reputation for operating railways.

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