Errant owners of vehicles will be penalised

Alongside workers, transport owners will face punishment for legal violations from now on, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said yesterday, citing from a newly drafted law styled Road Transport Act.

He also said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would inaugurate the construction work of the metro rail project in the capital in the last week of March.

The minister was talking to reporters during a mobile court drive of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, which was going on in the capital's Agargaon area, against the CNG-run auto-rickshaws that do not use meters to charge fares.

Quader said, "As per the existing laws, only transport workers are punished for violating rules."

Giving an example, an official of the ministry told The Daily Star that owners would face punishment if accidents occurred because of unfit vehicles and unskilled drivers.

The minister said the law had been drafted and put forward for suggestions from stakeholders. "We will try to place the bill in parliament in the ongoing session. If we can't, we will do it in the next session."

Transport owners welcomed the decision but feared that owners might be harassed.

"We will surely obey the rules like maintaining vehicles' fitness, appointing skilled drivers, and giving training to drivers. But if an accident occurs due to the engineering fault of roads, who will be responsible then? asked Faruk Talukder Sohel, managing director of Sohag Paribahan Pvt Ltd, talking to The Daily Star.

Romesh Chandra Ghosh, managing director of Shyamoli Paribahan Ltd, added, "If any government official issues a licence to an unskilled driver through underhand dealings, the official should be brought to book."

About traffic congestion in the capital, the minister reiterated that the new law would have a provision limiting the number of private cars a family could own.

He said several lakh small and unfit vehicles run in the capital, and these could not be removed from the streets overnight. Besides, freeing footpaths from illegal structures is a major pre-requisite to ease traffic jams, he added.

About the metro rail, Quader said there would be no change in the route. Recently, general students of Dhaka University have protested the running of the 20km route (Uttara to Motijheel) through the campus and demanded its shifting elsewhere.

The Tk 22,000 crore ($2.5 billion) ambitious project is aimed at easing traffic congestion in the capital through an improved, faster, comfortable and time-bound public transportation service.

The project officials hope that the rail operation would start partially by the end of 2019. Trains will initially run on the 10km stretch between Uttara and Agargaon.