Photo essay: Congestion, pollution, and road safety in Dhaka

A congested street in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Bangladesh’s busy buses

There are several bus operating companies in Dhaka, distinguishable by operator name and bus design, and many bus companies are franchised to operate the same routes — from origin to destination. The franchise list maintained by the Dhaka City Corporation is out of date, with 143 bus operators or routes no longer operational — but new routes have sprung up. There’s a difference between local bus services and direct bus services. Local bus services allow passengers to board and alight anywhere along a route and are often cheaper than direct bus services because of slower travel time. They tend to be overcrowded and poorly maintained, especially compared to the direct bus services.

Passengers reading a newspaper while traveling by bus in Dhaka, Bangladesh
The colourful interior of an empty bus in Dhaka
Bus driver waits for passengers to board

Taking to the water

The Buriganga River continues to play an important role in Dhaka. A victim of immense pollution, the river is a bustling waterway and an alternative to the slow pace on the roads. There are nouka — rowing boats, motorised nouka — engine boats, and water taxis — fibreglass-hulled boats. Noukas are the cheapest but slowest and most perilous option, and there are tales of them tipping over when near large ships. Engine boats are simple but effective, and the water taxis are a modern, fast service in the Hatirjheel area.

Passengers get ready to board a nouka with their luggage
Family travels in a rowing nouka in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Nouka docked platform in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Passengers travel on a motorised nouka in Dhaka, Bangladesh
The interior of a water taxi on the Buriganga River in Dhaka

An easier option for shorter distances

On-demand rickshaws are primarily used for shorter distances — either as a first or last mile mode of transport, or when travelling with heavy goods, or as a feeder service. These rickshaws have hoods, and women often use them instead of walking in dangerous districts. Most trips are up to 4 km long, and cost between 13–18৳ per km, on average. Easy bikes look similar to rickshaws, but are electric three-wheelers used for short distances outside of central Dhaka, with a capacity for five passengers. They’re often charged overnight (with a six to seven hour charging time) to ensure a full battery for the next day.

A rickshaw driver in Dhaka
Passengers board an easy bike
The seat of an easy bike driver
Passengers alighting from a leguna
Passengers board a train

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WhereIsMyTransport

WhereIsMyTransport

Stories about data, mobility, and the Majority World.