In developing countries like Nepal, people strongly believe that public transport is for the poor. Such belief is one of the major causes for the exponential increments of private vehicle ownership in Kathmandu in recent years. Enrique Penalosa, a former Mayor of Bogota, has said that “a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars; it’s where the rich use public transport.” The statement clearly indicates that public transport is not meant for the poor or the rich but for all. Owning private vehicles has been a status symbol in Nepal. International experiences have shown that such perception needs to be changed and will also change with time. Dwellers of Kathmandu have been facing mobility problems for some years. Currently, traffic congestion and safety have been the talk of the town. People are suffering severely from frequent traffic congestions. The situation is worsening day by day. The government has put focus on the widening of roads to solve traffic issues of the valley, leaving the issue of sustainable public transportation development in the shadow. Examples of world class cities have demonstrated that traffic issues cannot be solved only through expanding road infrastructure. The best way to achieve sustainable transport management would be integrated programs of developing public transport system and road widening simultaneously.
Land is a scarce resource and its use is limited. Therefore, road widening cannot be carried again and again whenever a city experiences traffic congestion. For instance, currently, road widening in Kathmandu is going on. It will certainly ease the traffic for some years, but the traffic won’t remain constant over time. Once demand exceeds the supply for roads, the situation will be the same as we are experiencing now. Is there then any possibility to widen the roads again?
There is no possibility to widen roads infinitely. Therefore, Nepal needs to learn from the experiences of other cities to promote public transportation systems immediately. Public transport has the capacity to solve the challenges of increasing mobility, improving quality of life, controlling road accidents and traffic accidents. Nepal is in dire need of a public transport system that is safe, secure, reliable, integrated, smooth, comfortable, economical, efficient, and affordable. Once the level of service of public transport reaches close to the levels of private vehicle use, people will automatically shift from private to public transportation. Bus Rapid Transit in Curitiba, Bogota, Jakarta, Ahmedabad etc. has delivered results and has set examples. Economically sound countries have opted for metro, tram and buses and the developing countries have focused on bus transit. A well developed bus transit is economic to implement and has the capacity to satisfy mobility needs of the people. It is a well-accepted fact that there is no alternative to developing public bus services in Nepal. The solution is to move people by public buses, walking, and bicycles.
The government of Nepal should come up with a policy to develop sustainable public transport services. Developing public transport systems should go hand in hand with discouraging the use of private vehicles. The government needs to restrict the use of private vehicles through high road toll, vehicle registration charges, environmental charges, fuel taxes, parking charges and road user charges.
Currently there is mixed traffic on the roads of Kathmandu with high capacity public buses (56-seater) to low capacity micro-buses (12-seater). The trunk routes are wider so high capacity buses should run on these routes with low capacity vehicles running on feeder routes. The absence of night buses has increased the dependency on private vehicles. Currently, availability of public transport during day time is not an issue but the concerns about public buses are that of reliability, safety, security, connectivity, and comfort. Social as well as economic activities will enhance once a city has well developed transportation systems. On the front of safety, public transport is safe to use.
Mostly, public transport systems run on subsidy worldwide. According to ECMT 2004, public transport gets 70% of the total costs subsidy from the government. In Nepal the transport operators need to be sustainable from their own operations. Therefore, they focus on revenue maximization rather than services. Public transport in our case is not for service but for business. This is the contradiction which needs to be settled. In the current scenario operators do not run empty vehicles to provide service to the public; rather they stay put at a station until they get sufficient passengers and try to
accommodate as many
passengers as possible in a vehicle. A 12-seater microbus will carry around 20 passengers.
Now the time has come for the government to act responsibly in terms of mobility. When the government can spend many millions of rupees to widen roads, it is capable of investing in developing a sustainable public transport system. It is clear to all that there is no alternative to developing sustainable public transport when it comes to mobility in Nepal. Therefore, public and private sectors need to join hands to achieve this desired outcome.
Gajurel is a traffic engineer