Efficient and reliable public transport is the only long-term solution
Traffic: About 758 vehicles hit the roads every month last year taking the total number of vehicles in the country to 83,538 as of November.
Records with the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) show that from 13,584 vehicles in 1997, it increased to 75,190 in 2015.
The authority also recorded an increase in revenue at about Nu 316 million (M) during the 2014-15 financial year. This is an increase of about seven percent from the previous financial year wherein RSTA collected Nu 295M.
Of the 83,538 vehicles in the country, 64 percent are privately owned of which about 50 percent are concentrated in Thimphu followed by Phuentsholing. As of November last year, 8,348 vehicles were imported.
Despite the increased taxes since the ban on import of vehicles was lifted in July 2014, 1,993 vehicles were imported clearly indicating that the ban did not make much of a difference.
From 91,010 ordinary and professional driving license holders in 2013, it increased to 110,547 as of November last year. Similarly, there are 4,193 taxis as of November last year from 1,119 taxis in 1997.
Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that the thromde’s main concern was shortage of parking space while drivers did not adhere to parking rules.
“We are working on enforcing parking rules and regulations as even landlords are converting their parking space into commercial space,” he said. “The thromde is also planning to come up with more parking spaces in Motithang and Olakha areas to ease the congestion.”
However, building more roads and parking spaces is seen as a medium-term measure as the thromde has to keep building more such structures. Therefore, stakeholders feel that the best way forward is changing the mind-set of the people instead.
For instance, of the 83,538 vehicles in the country, 64 percent being privately owned is seen as a major obstacle.
The increasing vehicles in the country have helped RSTA earn record revenues but congestion and parking issues are only worsening over the years. Lack of parking space in Thimphu especially along Norzin lam is an issue today despite introduction of parking fees. Therefore, parallel parking along Norzin lam instead of angle parking is seen as a more effective measure.
To address the increasing number of vehicles in the country, the thromde also introduced the parking fee system a few years ago. The thromde tshogde’s resolution last year to close Norzin Lam for vehicular traffic on the first Sunday of every month starting June last year met with a lot of criticism.
The resolution’s purpose was to make people adapt to the permanent closure of Norzin Lam after the two multi-level car parks in the city are completed. The multi-level car parks construction is expected to be complete by December this year, after which Norzin Lam is to be transformed into a pedestrian-only area.
There are 252 parking slots along Norzin Lam today.
Improving public transport
RSTA’s chief transport officer Karma Pemba said that private vehicle use could be restricted only with good alternatives. “And public transport is the only alternative,” he said. “But merely introducing public transport is not enough, we need to have reliable, affordable, efficient and comfortable public transport system.”
However, an efficient transport system involves a huge cost for which the concerned agencies have to rely on donor funding.
Karma Pemba also said that the most important but difficult measure in decongesting Thimphu is changing the mind-set of people through travel behaviour and model shifting, which means making people move from private to public transport. “Even if we are able to make about five to 10 percent of the people do that, it will be a big achievement,” he said.
There are 52 city buses in Thimphu currently. Around 6,000 passengers use the city buses daily against around 36,000 who use taxi services.
“We are also updating the 1996 transport policy currently after which we’ll come up with several recommendations,” he said.
Some of the proposed recommendations could be an intelligence transport system through Information Communications Technology use, looking for vehicle ownership if a person owns more than one car and phasing out old vehicles, among others. However, these are subject to government approval.
RSTA officials said that the providing free buses during tshechus and festivals worked well among people. “This could be tried with the public transport as well like providing the free services for a few months for people to get used to it,” Karma Pemba said. “These are some of the measures that some countries tried and were successful.”
With vehicle imports showing no signs of slowing down, the government has prioritised improvement of public transport on an urgent basis.
Some of the projects in the pipeline are establishment of a 24/7 control centre, traffic lights at some junctions, parking guidance systems, CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras, and speed monitoring cameras, among others. Other projects include improvement of public transport system through construction of model bus stops while an e-ticket system has also been introduced.