Country Listing

Bangladesh Table of Contents


Road Transportation

As of 1986, there were about 10,890 kilometers of publicly maintained motorable roads in Bangladesh. Despite tremendous floodrelated maintenance problems, road transportation was an increasingly important mode of moving goods and people in the 1980s. In FY 1986, some 69.7 million tons of goods (77 percent of the total moved) were carried on Bangladesh's roads. More than half of the roads--about 6,690 kilometers--were paved with cement, concrete, or bituminous materials. Secondary and tertiary byways were paved primarily with mud-baked bricks, stones, or gravel or were made of packed earth. Asphalt and even stone (except for small amounts quarried in Sylhet) must be imported, and the expense can be justified only for urban streets and main roads carrying heavy traffic. Unpaved roads require constant maintenance because of their instability and the cycle of flood and drought. The food-for- work program supported by the United States and other food aid donors makes it possible to support highway development by creating jobs to upgrade the primary highway system, by generating cash for minor bridges and culverts, and by converting seasonal tracks into year-round farm-to-market roads.

Highway transportation is complicated by the deltaic geography, requiring frequent crossings of streams and rivers, especially in east-west travel. There are few major bridges, partly because of shifting river courses, and the absence of significant topographical features makes bridge building costly. The solution is a proliferation of ferryboats of varying size and description. The ferry system operates with remarkable reliability, although capsizings sometimes occur, with heavy loss of life.

Because roads are often in poor condition or travel is difficult, motor vehicles are not the preferred mode for interurban commerce. As of 1986, the government estimated that there were 136,000 motor vehicles in the country, and half of those were motorcycles or auto-rickshaws.

Rickshaw taxis--three-wheeled, two-passenger bicycle-like vehicles--play an important role in urban transportation in Bangladesh. In 1986 there were 29,400 registered rickshaws operating in Dhaka alone. Nationally, according to official statistics, there were 182,000 rickshaws in 1986, a 20,000 increase in just 4 years. Rickshaws were introduced in Dhaka in the late 1930s, gradually replacing horse-drawn carriages. The rickshaw operator is generally a young, illiterate migrant from a rural area seeking upward social and economic mobility. The work is physically demanding, and the profits are often less than US$1 per day. Government authorities have indicated that they hope to eliminate bicycle rickshaws in Dhaka and gradually to allow only auto-rickshaws, which use motorcycles instead of bicycles. Autorickshaws , commanding higher fares, would represent a social and economic transformation, for the crude, inexpensive, and inelegant bicycle rickshaws respond remarkably well to the conditions of life in urban areas and fill an important economic function.

Data as of September 1988