Technological Change and Market Economy Will Remove Rickshaws

Engineer Najmul A Sheikh

17th February, 2019 09:37:45 printer

Technological Change and Market Economy Will Remove Rickshaws

Engineer Najmul A Sheikh

With the dramatic developments in technology, particularly the amazing developments in recent decades in communication, information processing, and digital technologies are also having profound effect on transportation sector even in Bangladesh in a free-market environment! In 1772, Adam Smith also argued that the invisible hand of the market mechanism, rather than the government policy should determine what a country imports or what it exports.  This argument is also applicable to other sectors in a refined form; still, the invisible hand of the market mechanism supported by the visionary government policy have started removing rickshaws from the streets of Dhaka.

Peer-to-peer ridesharing services are now in Bangladesh. I used to use UBER service in Sydney and Toronto. At first, it was unbelievable and amazing. I could not believe that it's possible to have UBER service in one of the most unplanned and ‘organised chaotic city' (as mentioned by The Lonely Planet) like Dhaka.

With the integration of mobile internet and GPS, peer-to-peer ridesharing companies such as UBER revolutionized global taxi industry a few years back. Without owning a single taxi/vehicle; UBER is now the biggest taxi company in the world. It didn't take long for UBER to find out its way in Bangladesh. Which was followed by other local peer-to-peer ridesharing companies like Pathao, Shohoz etc.

I have started using different peer-to-peer ridesharing services and surprised by its availability and affordability. Many instances (say from the airport rail station to Sector 12 Uttara), I found peer-to-peer ridesharing fare (without any discount) is very close to rickshaw fare. For more than two passengers, peer-to-peer ridesharing is 40% cheaper than two rickshaw fares combined. Especially, if you have luggage or it's a rainy day, then peer-to-peer ridesharing should be the obvious choice for transportation. Besides, cheap fare, car's comfort and safety features are additional with free of cost. With the arrival of local firms like Pathao (mainly motor-bike) and Sohoz, peer-to-peer ridesharing services have expanded its reach dramatically.

Many people like me, have already dumped CNG auto-rickshaw, in-favour of peer-to-peer ridesharing for almost a year. However, I was wondering, why people like me are still using rickshaw, instead of peer-to-peer ridesharing for medium distances. I have found two main reasons; firstly, many people are not aware of the availability and affordability of peer-to-peer ridesharing services. Secondly, the lack of smartphones to potential peer-to-peer ridesharing users. There is also another reason, which is our long-time habit of jumping into a rickshaw, instead of going through the mobile apps and waiting several minutes for a peer-to-peer ridesharing provider to arrive. 

However, during a few years more and more rickshaws have been clogging the semi-arteries of the city. Many of these rickshaw pullers have left their villages and migrated to Dhaka for a better living. At the same time, there has been an acute shortage of agricultural workers in the villages. 

Slowly but surely, I have started to notice that, more and more empty rickshaws are waiting for passengers in front of Mascot Plaza, RAK Tower in Uttara, Elephant Road and Bangla Motor areas. I have also spoken to dozens of rickshaw pullers, and they have complained that their earning has been declining for over one year due to lack of passengers and the idle time has increased. This is just the beginning of a new era, a silent transformation of our transportation system is in action. The invisible hand of the market mechanism in motion to reduce (if not removed completely) rickshaws from the sub-arteries of Dhaka city. Last but not the least, part of ‘Digital Bangladesh' – the government's visionary policy of connecting all mobile phones with National ID – as made peer-to-peer ridesharing very safe for both the drivers and the riders.

As an arm-chair economist, this time my prediction is, with more publicity through words of mouth, reliable service, availability, and propelled by cheaper smart-phone more and more commuters gradually would prefer peer-to-peer ridesharing service for travelling mid-distances (such as from the airport rail station to Sector 12 Uttara, Baily Road to Dhanmondi etc.) over the rickshaw. As a consequence, the number of rickshaws will be reduced in Dhaka city, and many rickshaw pullers will have to go back to their villages with the exposure to the modern system or will train and upgrade themselves to either become a peer-to-peer ridesharing driver or biker.

Now we can see, the modified version of Adam Smith's argument along with the technological advancements and the government's right policy to enhance market mechanism as: ‘the invisible hand of the market mechanism, will determine what citizens need for their own transportation and how'. Again, like ‘free trade', free movement of transport and supporting policies is a positive-sum game for all.


The writer is an Adjunct Faculty, BRAC Business School and a member, Central Science & Technology Sub-Committee, Bangladesh Awami League. He can be reached at: [email protected]