Mass public transport
There are already far too many vehicles on the streets of Kathmandu. Yet the year-on-year import of private vehicles continues to increase at an astonishing clip. For instance, despite the five months of border blockade, last year saw a 43 percent increase in vehicle imports from India. We would not need so many vehicles—there are now nearly a million vehicles in Kathmandu—if we had cheap and comfy mass public transport. So a metro rail would be convenient in Kathmandu. But if the glacial pace with which planning for it has progressed is any guide, it will be at least another decade before we see trains whizzing about in Kathmandu, or in any of our other major cities. The next option is operating big buses. There is no shortage of these. But few people would voluntarily take a ride on them, especially the ones which operate on short routes, as most of them are very old and during rush hours packed to the rafters. This is where the 16 buses being run by Sajha Yatayat, a public cooperative, have come so handy. For they are both cheap and comfortable.
So the news that Sajha is adding 30 more (disabled-friendly) buses to its fleet later this month is music to the ears of daily commuters in Kathmandu. But this is not the only good news. The Department of Transport Management and representatives of small public transport operators have agreed to operate 17 new buses along the Gongabu Bus Park-Tribhuvan International Airport route. These buses are to replace 35 tempos and 26 microbuses operating on the route. We learn that this is part of the broader plan to promote large buses in place of small vehicles in the major towns, as announced by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal during his address to the parliament last week. We wish his government all the luck with this wonderful initiative. We also hope that in the next few years smaller public vehicles will be gradually phased-out as more and more big buses are imported. But this is not enough.
If the government hopes to improve the state of traffic and air pollution, the twin scourge of all growing cities, in addition to encouraging cheap and convenient mass transport it should also discourage the import of small private vehicles. There is no point in adding the big buses if the deluge of private vehicles will continue to create jams and air pollution.
This can be done as a part of a mass awareness campaign aimed at persuading people to take (new and improved) public transport. Perhaps there is also a case of increasing taxes on import of small vehicles, while lowering them for big buses, especially the clean and efficient kind. The work on the long-delayed metro should also be promptly resumed.
Millions of well-to-do folks take public transport to and from work in cities as varied as Singapore, New Delhi, London and New York. They do so as it is far easier to travel by a bus or a train—and not that expensive either—rather than spend hours on end every day holed up in their little vehicles, cursing the no-good traffic policemen.