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Jamal, Shaila, Sadia Chowdhury, and K. Bruce Newbold. 2022. “COVID-19 and Modal Shift towards Motorized Two-Wheelers in Dhaka, Bangladesh.” Findings, March. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.33830.
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  • Figure 1. Total number of vehicles versus motorized two-wheelers and yearwise percentage of motorized two-wheelers among the registered motor vehicles in Bangladesh (Source: [b@113028])
  • Table 1. Description of the participants of the in-depth interviews
  • Table A1. Key themes and relevant quotes

Abstract

Based on in-depth interviews of 17 key informants in Dhaka, Bangladesh, this paper explores the reasons behind the observed modal shift toward motorized two-wheelers that occurred with the COVID-19 pandemic, along with its implications. Analysis of the key informants’ perspectives revealed that individuals’ inclination towards motorized two-wheelers occurs because of maintaining physical distance, lack of walking and bicycling infrastructure, the high social status associated with motorized two-wheelers, and brand promotion. The implications of this modal shift include increased traffic congestion, GHG emission, and traffic incidents. As interviewees suggest, mass communication, understanding users’ perspectives, and promoting equity concepts are needed for a modal shift towards more sustainable options.

Accepted: March 25, 2022 AEST

Appendix

Table A1.Key themes and relevant quotes
Key themes (N*, H**, TU**) Example Quotes
Reasons behind the uptake of motorized two-wheelers from the key informant perspectives
  • Health concerns and risk of infection (N=17, H=7, TU=10)
“Although the government has instructed bus operators to follow health guidelines such as keeping hand sanitizers [on board], and specified the maximum number of passengers to be carried [to maintain distance], due to higher demand of the public transport, especially the transit and paratransit services, most of the time, the guidelines can’t be followed, which increases the COVID – 19 transmission risks...personal protective measures can only be expected to be effective.”– TU4.

“I was involved in a few studies on the hygiene practice of the public [in Bangladesh]. We have seen that covering the face with hands while sneezing and coughing is very common in Bangladesh, and almost in every case, people don’t clean/ wash their hands after that. They transfer the germs on every surface they touch after sneezing and coughing.” – H6.

“People, in general, tend to hide their disease. On the other hand, no safety measures are taken properly in the public transport sector” – TU2.

“… driver’s and previous passengers’ personal hygiene is questionable as you cannot be sure of it. The virus could be in seats, doors, handles and if the driver doesn’t clean it properly, there could be a risk.”- H4

“…I can’t control the overall hygiene and disinfection level of transit or paratransit [modes]…but in private modes, everything is under my control.” – TU8

“From planning, energy security and sustainability perspectives, we don’t encourage motorized two-wheelers, but yes, considering the pandemic situation and current state of Bangladesh’s infrastructure, I would say that at this moment, motorized two-wheelers could be an appropriate, more of a practical mode of transport to those who can afford it.” – TU4.

“Transmission risk is low while using motorized two-wheelers because of the helmets.” – H4
  • Modal shift towards motorized two-wheelers instead of walking and bicycling (N=14, H=5, TU=9)
“… people are trying to avoid public transport…looking into the street, it looks like purchasing of private modes, especially motorized two-wheelers have increased due to necessity.” – H7

“The demand for transport has increased because of the reduced frequency of the public transport [in the post lockdown period]. I am saying this based on my observation...many young people have bought motorized two-wheelers…” – TU5

“While non-motorized travel is encouraged in other countries, [here in Bangladesh] we are banning the use of non-motorized transport modes in major roads…instead of non-motorized modes; people use motorized two-wheelers for greater connectivity and accessibility” – TU2

“People use motorized two-wheelers for accessibility and greater connectivity to different locations.” – TU5

“…speed, time-saving, the potentiality of social distancing, and available maintenance services within reach are the main reasons for increased use of motorized two-wheelers [during the pandemic].” – TU9

“Weather is scorching and humid in Bangladesh…not suitable for bicycling.” – H4

“In summer, it is hot and humid [in Bangladesh]; in the rainy season, it rains; in winter, there is dust everywhere – all these make walking and bicycling almost impossible...” – H7.

“… bicycling is not feasible because of [lack of] infrastructure and [high level of] air pollution in Dhaka..” – TU2

“It is not possible to maintain the recommended 6 feet physical distance in the walkways of Dhaka as too many people walk there.” – TU5.

“Walking is not safe in Dhaka’s walkways. Too many people are walking there and not wearing masks... You have a chance to get touched by another person, and you don’t know whether that person is maintaining hygiene or COVID – 19 positive.” – H3

“Motorized two-wheelers are becoming popular as our major corridors are not at all suitable for bicycling, and there is no proper well-maintained infrastructure for walking.” – TU5

“There is also a cultural context behind the increased use of motorized two-wheelers in the country. Our society is a hierarchical society...bicycling and walking are not within our culture. People [in Bangladesh] don’t use active modes and buses, considering their social status.” – H5

“Motorized two-wheelers use is a status issue in this country…non-motorized transport is considered a low-status mode…” – TU6

“…bicycling is not within our culture. There is a social barrier or, let’s say, a stigma associated with using active modes of transport... Transport mode is a social status issue. That’s why whether they can afford it or not, private motorized vehicles are always preferred here.” – H7
  • Social context and role of the manufacturers of motorized two-wheelers (N=10, H=2, TU=8)
“...young generation is more attracted towards it [motorized two-wheelers] because of craze, speed, brand promotion [focusing on young adults].” – TU6

“Affordability is still an issue for many among those who want to use motorized two-wheelers. It is mostly the middle or high-middle income group who the manufacturers target as they are the ones who can afford motorized two-wheelers.” – H1

“It [motorized two-wheelers] is unaffordable to the low and low-middle income group….current economic strains such as job insecurity, job loss and income cut have restrained them from purchasing motorized two-wheelers.” -H2

“In terms of affordability, people can get a loan from the financial institutes to buy a motorized two-wheeler, but a low or low-middle income can’t get a loan to buy a bicycle.” – TU6

“…manufacturers’ main target group is middle and higher-middle income groups.” – TU8

“…societal and media focus on using motorized transport are making the middle and high middle income to prefer motorized two-wheelers overs cars” – TU6

“Manufacturers are focusing on the faster mobility while promoting, making young people more attracted towards motorized two-wheelers.” – TU4.

“If you follow the newspapers, you will see that motorized two-wheeler sale has increased [in Bangladesh]…Along with social distancing, the helmet also gives protection from COVID-19 transmission” – TU2
  • Role of gender in modal shift (N=7, H=3, TU=4)
“Affordability [of perceived safe modes considering virus transmission] is an issue, and there is gender dimension to this as women’s mobility lost is higher compared to men’s in our society…a majority of women may not be comfortable in using personal modes such as motorized two-wheelers and bicycles due to societal views and clothing styles” – H4

“a change in women’s clothing style is visible in Dhaka … women are becoming interested in using scooty/ scooters [a form of motorized two-wheelers popular among the women in South Asia] for avoiding harassments in public transports.” – TU1

“…. the focus [in brand promotion] is not only given on the physical distancing but also on that they [women] can avoid [physical and sexual] harassments while using scooty” – H3.
Associated risks and challenges, and policy implications
  • Risks and challenges of increased use of motorized two-wheelers (N=14, H=6, TU=8)
“Motorized two-wheeler is not safe because of the higher rate of accidents [i.e.collisions and injuries]. There are no separate lanes to ride motorized two-wheelers, and the rate of motorcyclist death in Bangladesh is very alarming”. – TU7

“In most cases, injuries from crashes related to motorized two-wheelers are severe… in most cases, spot-death” – TU2.

“Riding a motorized two-wheeler requires skill and license, and the licensing process is very complex... Due to lack of law enforcement, many people ride motorized two-wheelers without a license and proper training.” – TU6

“Motorized two-wheelers should not be encouraged or promoted as a safe mode for COVID-19 transmission because of risk of increasing air pollution, traffic congestion and accidents.” – TU3
  • Need for perspectives and mindset change at both policymaking and user-level (N=14, H=7, TU=7)
“Communication needs to be done through proper channels… communication experts should be employed to understand users’ perspectives and needs.” – H5.

“Massive public awareness involving media and academia is needed to draw the attention of the policymakers.” – TU1

“Walking can be promoted/ encouraged during the lockdown. However, should not be encouraged when there is still a risk of covid-19 transmission because of too many people.” – H3

“Changing mindset…both at the policymakers level and mass level is needed to reduce the number of motorized two-wheelers in Bangladesh.” – TU6

“if you remove the barriers [of using a transportation mode], then it will be automatically promoted” – TU8

“..….. equity concept needs to be induced in our society to change our travel habits towards using active modes….[the context of] behavioural change needs to be included in the policymaking.” – H5

“Perspective matters. Motorized two-wheelers are still considered stylish vehicles… a vehicle for someone with a higher social status. If you want to discourage the use of motorized two-wheelers, these social perspectives need to be changed.” – TU10

*N= number of the key informants discussing the theme.
**H = number of health professionals discussing the theme,
***TU = number of transportation/urban planning professionals discussing the theme.