Public Transportation: Is it really FOR the public?
Syndicate still thriving on consumers’ loss and discomfort
A good public transport system is supposed to make efficient use of urban space and provide well-organised and affordable mobility, but a major cause of concern in developing countries like Nepal is that while urbanisation continues to happen rapidly, the modal share of public transport remains stagnant. Despite the massive rise in Kathmandu’s population in the past few years, public vehicles are still far fewer in number to ensure a comfortable, hassle free ride to commuters on a daily basis. There are no well-defined schedules, and the vehicles are generally poorly maintained, lack cleanliness, and are overcrowded and uncomfortable.
Over the past 10 years, population of the Kathmandu Valley has increased by 4.32 per cent per year and motorisation has increased by 12 per cent, but the percentage of public vehicles has remained almost the same. The inability of the authorities’ to add public vehicles has deeper roots than meets the eye.
The syndicate system is a major player in terms of fixing routes, encouraging higher prices and anti- competitive practices. The system is a huge barrier for prospective transport entrepreneurs. It is beyond doubt that these syndicates will never allow consumers to be kings in the market and will always repress innovation and competition. Administrative efforts to curb transportation syndicate in Kathmandu Valley have so far been futile. Recently Supreme Court at the behest of a case filed against the syndicate by Forum of Consumer Rights Nepal pronounced that the system (syndicate) be dismantled effective immediately.
Bishnu Prasad Timilsina, Secretary of Forum of Consumer Rights Nepal says, “Despite the court order the syndicate is still fully functional. What you have to understand is that this system is teeming with musclemen.” He continues, “No matter what measures we take to curb the syndicate’s monopoly, we fall short. They have political backing and money which gives them a free rein in the market. It is difficult to work against a force so adamant.”
According to Timilsina, different routes are owned by respective syndicates and issuing a new route permit requires approval from the syndicate that owns that specific route. If a public vehicle plies on that route without permission, the vehicles are often vandalised. The hooliganism that syndicate employs not only curbs the path to a free market but also elevates the discomfort of the consumers.
Too little too late
Adding to problems commuters face due to the unavailability public transport, the Department of Transport Management (DoTM) ordered the removal of extra seats in microbuses ploughing the Kathmandu Valley. But the fact remains that despite this measure taken by DoTM, it serves little to no purpose because people still board the microbus and stand in the absence of seats. According to Tokraj Pandey, the spokesperson of Department of Transport Management, the seats should not have been there in the first place. “When we release a vehicle for public transport, we check the number of seats allocated and make sure that there are no alterations in them,” he said. “But once they start running, the extra seats are added by the owners to gain profit,” he further said. He has no answer to how the entrepreneurs get away with such a serious misdemeanor.
Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs Association states its views on overcrowding in public vehicles. “According to the Transportation Act, any vehicle that runs locally can use the space available for the comfort of the passengers. We see no discrepancy there,” claimed Dolnath Khanal, the acting chairman of the federation.
Giving his opinion on this topic, Lokendra Malla, the SP of the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division said, “We usually take actions when complains are filed. But before that we do monitor whether complains we have received are unadulterated or not.”
The public vehicles in and around the valley are usually jam-packed in peak hours. It is understandable why they are overcrowded during those times but the system has turned a blind eye to the problems that the civics faces. Not just that, when questioned over why the buses that once used to run at night are dormant now, Malla said, “We as Traffic Police manage the vehicles that run on the road. We do not question as to why certain buses run and others don’t.” What the consumers face now is all open ended questions that remain unanswered.
Commuters’ loss transport entrepreneurs gain
In the Capital, some of the major complaints when it comes to public vehicles are lack of well-defined travel time, dearth of facilities and security features, among others. Similarly, commuters complain lack of punctuality and reliability of public transport, which results in passengers waiting in vain for buses for hours and not reaching their destinations on time.
The vehicle registration data acquired from the Department of Transport Management shows that altogether 742,358 vehicles have been registered in Bagmati Zone till date. As per the data, there are only 2.59 per cent registered public vehicles for Bagmati’s total population of 3.8 million people, which is not enough, given the number of people who use them. Public transport service is mainly for the mid standard people who rely on it in daily basis. Likewise, students also heavily depend on public vehicles to commute. It is high time the government created an ample environment that could guarantee quality transport to people at a low cost. Good governance, strict rules and regulations is must to give continuity to the public transport system of Nepal. Likewise, private sectors and stakeholders must contribute in making public transport system the cheapest and safest mode of transport.
The Transportation Department and the Traffic Police Division claims to have taken action against transport entrepreneurs that carry more passengers than actual capacity seats but the effectiveness of their actions are yet to be seen. “We will be conducting regular checking and there will be strict punishments for those who do not obey the rule,” exclaimed Pandey.
In the absence of a strong commitment by the government to provide an efficient formal public transport system, private individuals or small companies provide informal public transportation services. Nowadays public transport is more of a business from which the owners can make hefty profit more than a public service run at nominal cost. The government has done little to make transport fare affordable to all sections of society. The need for a government-run and regulated transportation system is evident.