The difficult road home
From waiting in long queues to booking bus tickets to travelling through risky roadways, passengers for years have been facing several problems while travelling their way back home for festivals
With the onset of the biggest festival of Nepalis — Dashain, a huge number of Kathmandu’s denizens are preparing to leave the Capital for their hometowns. It is estimated that around three million people will be leaving the City during the festivities, and to facilitate this mass exodus, pre-bookings of bus tickets were opened on September 22 by transport entrepreneurs, while ticket bookings were opened at counters located at Kalanki, Balkhu, Gongabu New Bus Park, Old Bus Park, Koteshwore, Tilganga, Chabahil, Swoyambhu, Sundhara, Nagdhunga, Jagati and Lagankhel.
Same old problems
Preferably ticket bookings for public vehicles ideally start three weeks before Dashain, but in the recent years due to various disagreements between transport entrepreneurs and Department of Transport Management (DoTM), ticket bookings for public vehicles have experienced frequent delays. This year too, the bookings for bus tickets started only a week before the onset of Dashain, subsequent to which ticket counters at bus stations of the Capital were seen to be chaotic and extremely crowded. Reportedly, even though in the first week of September the government had requested transport entrepreneurs to start booking for bus tickets for the festivities from September 11, transport entrepreneurs had proposed a revision in public transportation fare before the festive season began.
Basanta Bhandari, General Secretary at Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs shares, “The public vehicles’ fare has not been revised since 2012, so we have been requesting a fare revision since the past decade. This year the authorities have assured us that they will look into the fare revision process after Dashain and Tihar.”
According to Bhandari, this year the transport entrepreneurs did not have any demands regarding opening bus ticket bookings. Likewise, Tirtha Raj Khanal, Spokesperson at DoTM shares that this year, operations regarding ticket bookings have been running smoothly. Khanal shares, “We have mobilised two monitoring teams inside the Valley to observe ticket counters so that customers do not face hassles while booking tickets.”
Consumers in difficulty
Sarika Nepal, who was travelling to Bhairahawa from Kathmandu on September 25, shares that she had to stand in line for an hour at Gongabu New Bus Park before finally getting to book bus tickets a day before earlier. She shares, “Every year we have to stand in long queues just to book a few tickets. I was hoping for the pre-bookings of the tickets to start earlier this year, but on the contrary the bookings opened quite late.”
She adds, “It seems like transport entrepreneurs are only running the public vehicles for profit without taking consumers’ interests into consideration as purchasing tickets are extremely taxing during the festivities.”
When quipped about the reason behind delay in opening public vehicles’ tickets, Bhandari answers, “The processes involved with transforming transport committees and federations to company modality are quite complicated, so delays in acquiring and renewing of route permits and company registration took a lot of time causing the delay.”
As per him, transport entrepreneurs had planned on starting ticket pre-bookings from September 19, but since a lot of public holidays fell on the planned dates, they postponed the booking opening to a later date — September 22.
Bhandari quotes, “This year, we haven’t put forth any outrageous demands, it is our duty to serve the passengers and we are doing everything in our capacity to facilitate the smooth flow of passengers in and out of the Valley.”
He adds, “I believe the late opening of ticket bookings has not affected the passengers as adequate number of tickets for passengers to various locations across the country is available.”
The sorry state of roadways connecting different parts of the country which are largely underdeveloped have always been a concerning factor for transport entrepreneurs and passengers. Citing that the conditions of roadways have deteriorated further during the ongoing monsoon, Milan Khadka, booking staff at Namaste Sagarmatha Yatayat shares, “We have been requesting the government time and again to improve the condition of roads. From long traffic jams to dangerous potholes and unrepaired road sections, the roadways are very risky and dangerous for our drivers.”
He adds, “Even the roads repaired recently tend to get damaged within 15 days of repair. This is an evidence of government’s lackadaisical approach and lack of monitoring while undertaking developmental projects.”
Khadka also feels that transport entrepreneurs have to incur heavy losses when it comes to maintaining vehicles that ply on the damaged roads of the country, especially in the rural and hilly areas. He shares, “Because of the roads’ condition the vehicles do not reach their destinations on time. Since we are liable to answer the passengers regarding time setbacks, the government should in turn answer transport entrepreneurs regarding delay in road repairs.”
Bhandari shares, “In a recent discussion with Minister of Physical Infrastructure and Transport Raghubir Mahaseth and officials from Department of Roads, we have put forth requests for prompt repair of roads.”
As per him, there are currently approximately 300,000 public vehicles operating across Nepal, and to deal with the festive rush, entrepreneurs are planning to divert public vehicles from areas where the passenger flow is less. He shares, “Because of the sad condition of roads, uncertain policies and lack of investment security for transport entrepreneurs, we were not able to add more vehicles this festive season either.”
In order to eliminate illegal public vehicle ticket counters, the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (MTPD) had started booking illegally-run counters in May. Additionally, the division in coordination with the DoTM and transport operators has also established 14 help desks in various parts of the Valley. The authorities have also made it compulsory for bus ticket sellers to wear uniforms and carry identity cards.
According to Subash Deuba, Sub-Inspector at Traffic Police Circle, Gongabu New Bus Park, the government has published transportation rates for 118 long and medium routes at the bus station for passengers’ reference; however, similar to previous years there is 20 and 40 per cent increment on the regular fare for Deluxe and Air Conditioned buses respectively. Deuba informs, “Police personnel in civil clothes have also been mobilised in the bus park periphery to monitor activities of theft, black ticket sales and fraud.”
He adds, “Passengers can come and get information regarding ticket fares and routes at our help desk and we are also assisting people with disabilities.”
Every year, around the festive season, black marketers also pose a major threat to vehicle owners, transport entrepreneurs and passengers but this year as per Deuba, the Traffic Police Circle has not received any complaints regarding fare fraud and black marketing till date.
“This is the busiest bus park in the City, and apart from minor cases of lost possessions, we have hardly received any other complaints this year,” he informs.
On an average, 360 buses leave for different destinations across the country from Gongabu New Bus Park per day; Deuba informs that the number has increased to 400-500 buses per day this festive season. As per him, on the first day of ticket booking opening, 14,530 tickets were pre-booked by passengers from Gongabu New Bus Park alone, while the total number of bus tickets booked were close to 34,000 on September 25.
Deuba informs, “The flow of passengers is expected to increase in the coming days and we are prepared to handle any enquiries we get.”
The exodus of City dwellers from the Capital to their hometowns is likely to continue till the day of Phulpati, October 5.