Tackling traffic troubles
Will new measures prove to have a lasting effect on resolving perennial transportation problems?
Traffic jams and road accidents paired with air pollution have become an immutable nuisance for Kathmandu Valley’s denizens. The authorities are trying to tackle these problems by introducing new laws and regulation; however, with the surge in number of vehicles plying on the road, the implementation of such rules has become a challenging task for them. According to the data provided by the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (MTPD), there are 9,22,900 registered vehicles operating inside the Kathmandu Valley.
Old is not gold
On March 1, 2017 the Department of Transport Management (DoTM) started removing 20 years or older public vehicles registered in Kathmandu Valley. This drive was an attempt to curb air pollution, environmental degradation, traffic congestion and road accidents. With the ban on the vehicles, the department had also stopped all processes of renewing old vehicles, registration and collecting taxes. The first phase of this exercise banned outdated vehicles from the Kathmandu Valley. The government is now preparing to ban 20 years and older vehicles from across the country. The initiative has not prohibited private vehicles yet.
DoTM estimates that 20-year-old vehicles (public and private) operating in the country amounts to more than 5,000. Reportedly there were 2,500 outdated vehicles before the ban was enforced. However, the department only managed to take action on eight to 10 outdated public vehicles within the Valley. Despite this unsatisfactory result, the DoTM claims that the ban was successful within the Kathmandu Valley. DoTM has plans to formulate this ban effectively as of mid-March 2018. Tulsi Ram Aryal, Director at DoTM says, “The authorities will not renew the documents of these vehicles and road permits will not be issued to them.” He adds, “As we have issued public notices to make the general public aware, anyone who is found breaking the rules will be fined to according to the Transport Management Regulation Act.” Aryal informs that electric vehicles older than 30 years will also not be allowed to ply the roads. DoTM aims to make the ban successful by working in coordination with MTPD by carrying out strict checking of the vehicle documents.
On the other hand, waiver on custom duties and related taxes on purchase of new vehicles displacing the old has been demanded by the transport entrepreneurs. A similar demand was put forth by entrepreneurs last year when the authorities implemented the ban in Kathmandu Valley. Dolnath Khanal, President of Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs (FNNTE) quotes, “The government has not addressed any of our demands so far. We plan to remain persistent as huge amount of investment will go down the drain.” He further adds, “Determining the vehicles useless just based on its age is impractical as many vehicles over 20 years old are in perfect working condition.” The government has decided to waive certain duty for the owners if they wish to purchase new vehicles to replace the old ones.
Though transport entrepreneurs have opposed the idea, environmentalists have supported the initiative by the government. Yugendra Chitrakar, Executive Director at Environmental Camps for Conservation Awareness quotes, “Old vehicles that have not been maintained properly should not be allowed on the roads as it harms the environment irreparably.” Citing that this could be one effective way to control pollution in Kathmandu Valley, he says, “I applaud the government for taking charge in managing vehicles and minimising the pollution in the City. The government must encourage other modes of transportation such as bicycles within the Valley.”
People often refrain from using public mode of transportation such as local buses and micro-vans as it is unmanaged, over-crowded and slow. The first alternative for anyone who doesn’t own a private vehicle in desperate and urgent situation is taking a taxi. Nevertheless, the rate of taxis is often arbitrary and heavy on the pockets. Even though the government has fixed the metre rate, taxis don’t adhere to it. They fix the fare as they deem fit. Chet Prasad Gautam, President at Nepal Metre Taxi Association says, “Taxis are supposed to comply by the fixed fare rates. If not all, some fix the rate on their own terms which is obvious as the taxi fare which was fixed by the government has not been revised in the last four years.” He adds, “The price of the automobile parts that used to cost Rs 200-Rs 300 has increased to Rs 1,500. It’s difficult for taxi entrepreneurs and drivers to make a decent living.”
Gautam informs that the entrepreneurs have time and again requested to increase the metre rate. He quotes, “Taking into account the price hike in the market and the cost of fuel, the government must increase the fixed rate so that taxis agree to comply by the rates allocated by the government.” Despite the claims of the taxi entrepreneurs, a taxi operator seeking anonymity, says, “The rate fixed by the government in my opinion is not unfair. The rates are enough to adequately sustain the cost that one incurs on fuel and other maintenance of the vehicle.”
Taxi fares were last revised on 2013 by Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport where the fare was increased by Rs 4 per km to Rs 36 per km. Before the augmentation, the fares were fixed at Rs 32 per km. Nevertheless, some consumers due to lack of awareness tend to fix the taxi rates themselves before they board a taxi. Mukunda Marasini, Deputy Spokesperson at MTPD says, “The community needs to be aware about the rights they can exercise. Any public vehicle that refuses to facilitate them according to the rates fixed by the government will be penalised. However, many don’t see the need to register complaints which only encourages taxi drivers and other vehicle entrepreneurs to flout the rules.” Baburam Humagain, General Security at Forum for Protection of Consumers’ Rights Nepal (FPCRN) quotes, “Taxi operators are seen to be waiting outside hospitals and shopping malls in clusters of eight to 10, fixing a rate of their own and refusing to operate on the metre. This has put consumers at a great disadvantage and forced them to bargain when it comes to fixing the taxi fare.” He adds, “We have time and again tried to attract the attention of the authorities but that has not brought forth any considerable changes. The government needs to do their part by conducting thorough investigation on a regular basis.” According to him, consumers should also be active themselves and immediately inform the authorities rather than abiding by the atrocious demands that taxi operators put forth.
Thamel, Gaushala-Pashupati and Ason-Indrachowk areas of Kathmandu Valley were declared no-vehicle zones by the joint efforts of tourism entrepreneurs, local bodies and MTPD with the intent to minimise unmanaged vehicular movements, pollution and problems created by the growing traffic influx. Thamel was declared a walk-only zone on October 2017.
After the success and appreciation of the initiative other areas that saw unmanaged vehicular movements were also declared a no-vehicle zone. After Thamel, Pashupatinath temple area, a UNESCO heritage site, which attracts a huge number of domestic and international tourists was declared no-vehicle zone on December 2017. MTPD has fixed five areas in Pashupati premises where the vehicle movement is prohibited. Pass system has been introduced for the locals who are allowed to operate their vehicles within the area during the prescribed hours.
Ason-Indrachowk was also declared a no-vehicle zone on January 2018 as the narrow streets of the area saw a lot of haphazard traffic flow. Marasini quotes, “As the areas see a lot of foreign and domestic visitors, we wanted to turn these into peaceful destinations where people are not disturbed by unmanaged traffic movement.” He adds, “Though some may have difficulties because of this drive, it is for the greater good of the locality.” Marasini informs that not the entire vicinity of the restricted areas is vehicle free. He informs, “The prohibition is limited to 200-mt-500-mt distance of the allocated areas.”
Marasini quotes, “We are doing our best and have appealed to the public to actively coordinate with us.” Citing that the police department could only get so much done without the help of the community, he says, “Everybody can help from an individual level by filing complaints and giving us details of any traffic violations via the traffic toll free number 103. Anyone found infringing the rules will be penalised and taken action against.” He also notified that MTPD had started a new initiative where they are planning to work in coordination with DoTM. Marasini informs, “We are planning to work with DoTM and put a close surveillance on those who flout the traffic rules through CCTV cameras across the City. The vehicle numbers of those that do not abide by the law will be recorded and taken action against after getting their details from DoTM.” Marasini claims that this initiative will be fruitful in managing the transport system and reducing traffic violations.
The instigations by the authorities have come as a boon to those weary of the unmanaged state of the traffic and roads. This being said, time will tell if these measures will bring a lasting effect or will just prove ineffective in the long run.