State of Cities 2016: Traffic Congestion in Dhaka City

One of the most pressing challenges in managing Dhaka city is its traffic congestion. With increasing inhabitants and increasing vehicles, tackling this challenge is getting harder and harder every day. In our fifth annual flagship report of its kind, the “State of Cities 2016: Traffic Congestion in Dhaka City,” we focused on the problem of traffic congestion in Dhaka—its causes and how it can be tackled. We found that traffic congestion results from various institutional and management flaws and impotence, and reducing this modern plague requires the government and citizens to work together.

Researchers: AKM Fazlur Rahman; Mahbub Hasan; Gazi Arafatuzzaman Markony; Nabila Zaman; Dr Md. Shanawez Hossain; S. M. Gubair Bin Arafat; Bayazid Hasan; Nadir Shah; Sumaiya Kabir Talukder; Mohammad Sirajul Islam; Md Mahan Ul Hoque; Raihan Ahamed

Partners: International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

Timeline: January–November 2016

Status: Completed

Contact: Mohammad Sirajul Islam;


  • Report: State of Cities 2016: Traffic Congestion in Dhaka City


Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is one of the most densely populated and fastest-growing cities in the world. Its transport demand has increased dramatically, long exceeding the capacity of the city’s road network. Within the past two decades, more than a million motor vehicles and almost as many non-motorised vehicles have been introduced. Exacerbated by poor planning and urban governance, such an abundance of vehicles results in tremendous traffic congestion. Various measures have been taken to address the problem, including issuing new laws and creating new institutions. However, despite all these measures traffic congestion remains a growing predicament for 18 million inhabitants of Dhaka city with major social, economic, and environmental costs.


The primary objective of our study was to explore the governance issues of traffic congestion in Dhaka city—its transport demand and supply; existing institutions and policy arrangements for traffic management; and the status and effectiveness of traffic law enforcement. We also evaluated the related socio-economic and political dimensions and impacts of traffic congestion in Dhaka, keeping liveability at the centre of the study.

This study is relevant to SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), partocularly to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.


In this study, we focused on the Dhaka metropolitan area and six key government agencies in particular: Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA), and Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK). Based on the governance perspective, the investigation was conducted adopting a political economy framework. We collected data from both primary and secondary sources through key informant interviews (KIIs), a score-card survey of the six selected institutions, case studies, and site observations. A major questionnaire survey of 774 transport users was also carried out to obtain people’s views of the main traffic issues and priorities for action.

Findings and Recommendations

We have found that much of the traffic congestion is caused by the lack of infrastructure supply and poor planning of the road network. The main transport coordinating authority, DTCA and several other institutions involved in transport are challenged by their limited human and equipment resources. The coordination among these institutions is also very weak. We also found how stakeholders’ interests can affect traffic congestion. The hawkers and the bus sector both involve informal payment to function and operate—the former occupy the sidewalks and the latter get route permits without any background check. This scenario of informal payment not only causes traffic congestion but also leads to a loss of government revenue. Furthermore, it was found that the vehicle licence system is dominated by brokers who charge substantial fees and can even arrange a licence without a test, leading to millions of fake licences. Drivers also cause traffic congestion by frequently breaking traffic rules. The costs and impacts of traffic congestion on Dhaka’s citizens are enormous. In our estimation, the cost of delays caused by traffic amounts to around BDT 227 crore per month. It also causes citizens considerable discomfort and stress.

To reduce this intense traffic congestion and alleviate people’s sufferings, more emphasis should be given on demand management measures to balance transport demand and supply by slowing down the growth in private cars and motorcycles use. The capacity of various agencies involved in Dhaka’s transportation system should be strengthened, including better coordination among them. And finally, the current informal practices should be transformed into legal, formal systems by creating incentives for the stakeholders to act in positive rather than negative ways.