An intelligent transport system proposal will also be completed by this month’s end to improve public transport 

Transport: With vehicle imports showing no signs of slowing down, the government is stepping up its efforts to improve public transport on an urgent basis.

From January until the end of June this year, 4,629 vehicles were imported, records with the Road Safety and Transport Authority show. Of these, 4,317 vehicles were imported for private use and 308 by the government. However, of the 308 imported by the government, 172 were power tillers.

Despite the increased taxes since the ban on import of vehicles was lifted in July last year, 7,201 vehicles were imported into Bhutan, which is an average of almost 655 vehicles a month.

There were 74,231 registered vehicles in Bhutan as of June end.

In light of this situation, the information and communications ministry is coordinating efforts of several agencies to improve public transport.

Information and communications secretary, Dasho Kinley Dorji said the World Bank will be supporting the effort with USD 5 million (M) and that the UNDP will also be providing another USD 3M. However, he said that the government would be looking for more funds.

Dasho Kinley Dorji said to start with, the government expects Bhutan Post, which operates the public bus system in Thimphu to professionalise the system.

Around 6,000 passengers use the city buses daily, compared to around 36,000 who use taxi services.

Bhutan Post is already piloting a new ticketing system on some routes. If successful, bus tickets will eventually become available for purchase in shops and other establishments. Bus tickets will also not be limited to only single trips anymore but similar to city bus services abroad, be introduced with longer validity periods like a week or month.

Dasho Kinley Dorji said the new ticket purchasing system, which will mean less cash transactions in the bus, is expected to stop revenue leakage. He added it is important that passengers demand tickets when they pay the conductor because it has been reported that revenue leakage is a growing problem for the bus system.

Another area will be to improve bus stops. Except for a few, most bus stops in Thimphu are nothing more than a signboard planted onto the side of a road.

The ministry is currently working on the design of a model bus stop that will be piloted shortly. Funding of USD 100,000 to build at least two of these model bus stops as a pilot has already been obtained from the UNDP.

The model bus stop will include a shelter, information on routes, timings and fares, a bus bay, which will be a dedicated area for the bus to park, and a waste bin, among others.

Bhutan Post also plans to upgrade its fleet of 34 buses by another 18.

While the Gross National Happiness Commission will also be exploring the introduction of electric buses, current plans include only conventional buses.

Dasho Kinley Dorji said that once purchase and testing of electric buses are complete, they would be brought into the picture.

The secretary said another area that requires focus is aligning the public transport system, which means allowing, for instance, the bus service to interconnect with taxi services.

“Given this urgency,” he said, “we really need to move on it in a coordinated way.”

Meanwhile, a report on an intelligent transport system for Thimphu city will be submitted to the government by the end of this month. A consultancy firm has been working on the report since February.

The intelligent transport system uses information communications technology to improve the traffic system and flow, among others.

However, if traffic lights are recommended in the report, it will not be adopted. Dasho Kinley Dorji said that it is government policy that traffic lights will not be used for aesthetic reasons.

By Gyalsten K Dorji