The country’s roads, especially in urban centres like Thimphu city or Phuentsholing, are getting crowded. With increasing imports of vehicles, increasing regional tourists visiting in their own vehicles, and a regional transport agreement that could see more foreign traffic on our soil, the existing road infrastructure is set to be overwhelmed in a few years, or sooner.
Already we’re seeing the signs. Bumper to bumper traffic jams regularly plague Thimphu’s road both as a result of increasing number of vehicles, poor road designs and junctions, and inadequate driver knowledge.
But there is some hope on the horizon. Thimphu city’s bus system is set to be upgraded.
With World Bank support, a number of improvements are being planned. Improvements that will be implemented from next year until 2018. Some of the upgrades include better bus stops with shelters, that are adequately linked to the pedestrian footpath network, and addition of more buses. A cashless payment system, a web-based app that provides information to commuters, and a preemptive maintenance system of buses are also in the works.
This is obviously a long overdue upgrade that’s set to take place and make public transport not only more efficient but an alternative to driving a private vehicle.
Public transport plays a very important role to society, especially the lower income groups. It provides for better access to education, health care and recreation.
It also must be well integrated with other forms of transport like taxis and the pedestrian footpath system.
While the World Bank’s team will seek to ensure that every bus stop is easily accessible to pedestrians with footpaths and zebra crossings within a 50 metre radius, it is equally important that the thromde also look to fully realize the potential of footpaths outside these 50 metre radius bus stop zones.
While new footpaths are being constructed and other pedestrian improvements, like zebra crossings, are being implemented, there are still many areas in Thimphu city that lack footpaths or zebra crossings. Thimphu city is still a small city, or a town for that matter, when compared to other cities. The walking distances are already not lengthy but can become even shorter if a well-planned comprehensive network is implemented.
If good and safe infrastructure is provided, a growing health conscious vehicle owning population may opt to walk occasionally.
An extensive footpath system linked to a better bus network could serve as an alternative to owning a car, or at least choosing to drive your own car to town.
While owning a car is a status symbol in our society, efforts must begin to change the mindset that only those who cannot own a car use public transport. But for this to happen, the public transport system has to be efficient first.
Perhaps to aid the process of increasing efficiency, and to change the people’s mindset, some of our high-ranking officials, our representatives in parliament, instead of driving fuel guzzling sports utility vehicles, could start using the public transport system occasionally.
Those of us who own vehicles should also try to use the public transport system, so that we can experience it first hand and provide feedback to the service providers.
A good public transport system has to be easy and convenient to use, efficient and affordable.