With the growing population density of the Valley, commuting in public vehicles to reach one’s destination has become an unpleasant experience filled with discomfort for commuters. While problems like over-crowded public vehicles, lack of proper operating schedule and bus stops, uncomfortable rides and untimely services among others continue to plague the Capital’s public transportation system, ensuring safe, timely and quality public transportation facilities for Valley’s citizens has become the need of the hour.
According to the National Census (2011), Kathmandu has the largest population of 1,744,240 in Nepal with an average annual growth rate of 4.78 per cent while the statistics of the Department of Transport Management (DoTM) of the fiscal year 2016/17 shows the total number of vehicle registrations to be 119,956 in Bagmati zone which includes 1,405 buses, 2,132 minibuses, 14,542 cars and jeeps, 222 microbuses and 94,751 motorcycles.
The statistics are evidence of the fact that while the population density of the Capital and trend of private vehicle ownership is increasing rapidly, the gap between private and public vehicle ownership continues to increase, cementing the fact that the current state and number of public vehicles operating in the Valley is not adequate to serve public transportation consumers.
For Shristi Maharjan, a resident of Siddhipur, who usually travels from Siddhipur to New Road, waiting for a lengthy period of time to catch a public vehicle has become a habit. She says, “I am usually working till five or six in the evening and it’s difficult to get a bus during the evening hours. There are usually so many people waiting for the same bus and when it finally arrives, everyone tries to get in at once because of which getting a comfortable seat for a comfortable ride in public transportation has become a distant dream.”
On top of that, Maharjan shares that the bus drivers and conductors keep trying to fit more people than the vehicle’s capacity during peak hours — mostly during mornings and evenings which adds to passengers’ discomfort.
Bhushan Tuladhar, CEO, Sajha Yatayat, shares, “The condition of public transportation at present is chaotic and there is a lot that needs to be improved.”
He adds, “Private transport entrepreneurs have invested a lot in public transportation sector but still proper monitoring and regulation on the part of the government is inadequate which has stunted the quality of service that the private sector is providing.” Currently, Sajha Yatayat operates 71 public buses in the Valley but Tuladhar feels that despite adding new vehicles on various routes, the company has not been able to meet the demand of public buses on many of its bus routes.
Saroj Sitaula, General Secretary at Federation of Nepali National Transport Entrepreneurs, shares, “The public transportation sector is degrading day by day and the major problems that have led to its dilapidation are inefficient and unclear rules and regulation, lack of banking facilities and investment security for transport entrepreneurs among others. “There is a lack of public vehicles for the public which needs to be increased to facilitate commuters.”
BREAKING SHACKLES OF SYNDICATE
Last year, the government launched a strict crackdown against the syndicate system, which was prominently prevalent in the public transportation sector of Nepal for long.
Tirtha Raj Khanal, Information Officer at DoTM, says, “Prior to the crackdown on public transportation syndicate system, anyone seeking route permit in the Valley would require a formal recommendation from transport entrepreneur associations and federations even though according to the law, the practice was not a prerequisite.
And this informal practice had been going on for years.”
He adds, “Now, DoTM can issue route permits in accordance to the necessity and demand of the public, which we believe will ease public transportation services.”
As per him, earlier, transport entrepreneurs held the monopoly to decide if new transport entrepreneurs were to be allowed to operate their vehicles on the roads or not. Also, departure timings, number of vehicles for operations and routes were decided by the transport entrepreneurs autonomously. Under the new system, transport bodies, associations and federations also formally announced their shift to company modality on July 19 ensuring public transportation sector’s healthy growth and officially bringing monopoly on the public transportation sector to an end.
Sitaula informs, “As directed by the government, the majority of transport entrepreneurs have transformed and still continue to transform into private companies.”
Bishnu Prasad Timilsina, Deputy General Secretary at Forum for Protection of Consumers’ Right Nepal (FPCRN) shares, “The authorities and transport entrepreneurs feel that introducing company modality and following it has formally ended the syndicate system but that is not true. In the coming days it is highly likely that transport companies will impose similar monopoly system under the company modality and it is vital that the government stops all ill practices related to the syndicate system.”
“We feel that the consumers should get timely service and public vehicles in accordance to commuter’s density should be available. It is the government’s responsibility to manage public transportation system but it has not been able to neither manage nor monitor the public transportation sector because of which consumers continue to face problems,” he shares.
THE WAY OUT
Sitaula shares, “In order to make Nepal’s public transportation sector convenient for people, the government should consult every stakeholder and make transportation regulations and operating systems. The government should also come up with ways of decreasing road accidents while ensuring that victim get compensated for the loss.” He adds, “If the government doesn’t ensure investment and professional security to transport entrepreneurs along with consumer’s security, investment from private sector’s side in the public transportation sector will not increase which will further degrade the sector.”
Tuladhar feels that to tackle the problem of overcrowding of public vehicles, a public standard needs to be maintained while keeping quality of service and affordability in mind. He says, “I feel that there are adequate number of public vehicles in the country but the sector lacks systematic and regular vehicular frequency which has created problems for the public.”
As per him, the increasing trend of introducing big buses has also been beneficial to improve public transportation network.
He shares, “Around six years ago, our transportation system was mainly dominated by small vehicles and big vehicles are being introduced so that it can accommodate many people at once. Having said that, big vehicles cannot operate on every part of the road network and a combination of both small vehicles like microbuses and big vehicles like buses are necessary.”
He adds, “Since private sectors are a huge part of public transportation sector, the government must take their interests into consideration while moving forward. In addition to that the government should also invest in public transportation services and work towards modernising it.”
Timilsina believes that it is essential for the government to create a separate authority which looks after public transportation systems — where queries and complaint related to public transportations are entertained while regularly carrying out efficient monitoring activities.
He says, “Currently, FP- CRN has been conducting studies on the public transportation system of Nepal so that we can identify its drawbacks.”
Khanal shares that in order to improve public transportation system and ease traffic congestion, DoTM is currently conducting a research to add new routes to the transport network. He adds, “We also have plans to systemise existing bus parks in the Valley.”
A version of this article appears in print on August 04, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.