Print Edition - 2014-07-20  |  Free the Words

Off-track transit

  • Road expansion alone is not a solution to the ills of Kathmandu roads; public transportation also needs to be fixed
Off-track transit

Jul 19, 2014-

The utterly poor state of public transportation in Kathmandu is one of the symptoms of a sick city. Yet, there have never been any significant interventions to improve this state of affairs. As a result, the public is inclined towards purchasing private vehicles—motorcycles and cars—for which mushrooming financial institutions are providing attractive loan schemes. This increasing trend of promoting private vehicles, mostly among the urban youths, does not bode well for the development of a healthy city. Today, advocacy on a sustainable, green city has gained momentum among experts and even the public. But even here, discussions on the state of public transportation has not yet surfaced.

Buses to the rescue

Although this sensitive issue should have been prioritised by policymakers and political leaders—like road widening was—their preference and vision were directed elsewhere. In cities like Bogota in Columbia, the mayor was elected for improving public transportation, an indispensable urban infrastructure, through the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. Political leaders in Nepal should learn such farsighted approaches to win the hearts of the general public.

Moreover, if the basic needs of the underprivileged sections of society are not prioritised in a democratic society, social inequity will never end. The plight of passengers, who wait for long hours despite climatic adversities and traffic chaos to board buses alongside the road, where many luxurious cars pass by frequently with unoccupied seats, is indeed a sad example of such inequality.

The roads of major routes in Kathmandu are now wide enough to run high capacity vehicles like Sajha Yatayat, which can comfortably seat 54 passengers and accommodate 15 more in the aisle. Yet astonishingly, the number of commuters riding the Sajha bus is lower in comparison to other low capacity vehicles like microbuses. Besides, passengers can comfortably stand with generous air space even when all seats are occupied in a Sajha bus. It is exactly the opposite in an overcrowded microbus, where

passengers suffocate, cannot stand or sit properly and yet, more are welcomed. Passengers are stuffed into microbuses and buses like gundruk into an empty can.

It is high time to replace such microbuses with high capacity public vehicles that can carry more than four times the passengers a microbus can. On one hand, such an intervention can reduce vehicular pressure on the road and on the other, it can lessen resource consumption and emission of pollutants.

No schedule

Furthermore, there are hardly any public vehicles in the Kathmandu Valley that can maintain an effective time schedule. Although buses depart at fixed intervals from different terminals all over the Valley, their arrival at intermediate stops is indeterminate, be it in the scorching heat of the summer or chilly mornings in the winter. It is, therefore, not unusual for ill-fated Kathmandu denizens to spend indefinite amounts of time waiting for a bus, without a bench to sit on or shade to shield them from the sun and rain.

Moreover, due to slow speed and frequent stops, passengers have to spend a longer time inside buses than necessary. At times, when the bus is trapped in a traffic jam in the mid-day summer heat, things can get pretty annoying. How can people travelling in such pitiable conditions to their workplace perform better at their jobs? Will not improving such this bleak state of public transportation increase work efficiency of countless middle-class urbanites?

Recently, an elderly lady, who was standing near the exit of the Lalitpur Yatayat bus, fell when the bus driver swerved suddenly to avoid a private car. Naturally, the lady and other passengers protested. In retaliation, the young driver simply drove more carelessly just to frighten them. The behaviour of bus drivers and conductors is a frequent complaint among passengers. It is common to hear bus conductors bitterly yelling at passengers, ‘chito garnus, chito garnus’ (go faster), when passengers at the back seat have to find their way to the exit through a crowded aisle or ‘bhitra janus, bhitra janus’ (get in) when the bus is already overloaded.

A safa tempo is much better in comparison to microbuses when it comes to the drivers’ behaviour, safety and comfort. Unlike recklessly-driven microbuses and buses that are always in a hurry, these environmental-friendly tempos patiently stop for passengers to board or disembark and seldom race each other or violate lane discipline.

Fixing problems

The complaints against Kathmandu’s public transport are innumerable and range from poor physical conditions, such as dirty seats or stale odours, to the blaring of unbearably loud music. Finding a suitable solution to this long list of problems is the call of hour. A metro or a BRT is a far-off dream for Kathmandu. Meanwhile, some immediate interventions, like replacing microbuses with large buses like Sajha buses, maintaining an effective time schedule and physical condition, installing shades and benches at every bus stop, training drivers and conductors to follow traffic rules and lane discipline would bring about exigent transformations.

Just widening the road alone without intervening in the state of public transportation is not enough to lift the image of an ailing city like Kathmandu. Not all Valley dwellers own a private car or motorcycle. How will the thousands of students, workers, housewives, senior citizens, differently-abled citizens and patients who depend on public transportation meet their needs?

Pandey is an architect

Published: 20-07-2014 08:53

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