Environmental concerns grow as car-wash facilities increase

MAIN STORY: It was in 2005 when Babesa saw a major facelift with the newly paved expressway, a 6.2km road starting from Lungtenzampa to Babesa.

With this new development, the entire landscape of Babesa changed in a blink of an eye. The paddy fields and traditional houses gave way to a concrete jungle. What it was, it isn’t anymore.

Today, the area is filled with different buildings, apartments, vehicle showrooms, hotels and workshops. And more are coming.

The number of vehicles plying on the expressway has also increased. Every day, thousands of vehicles can be seen along the expressway.

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A total of 68,685 vehicles are registered with the Royal Safety and Transport Authority today, out of which, more than half – 36,273 – are in Thimphu. Every month, about 600 new driving licences are issued, about 300 in Thimphu alone.

Catering to the needs of new and old vehicle owners in the capital, the number of car wash businesses that provide manual to automated car washing and detailing services have boomed, particularly along the expressway. Now, a customer can choose where they want to wash their vehicle based on kinds of services he or she gets.

ST Auto Car Spa is one of the first automated car wash to be opened along the expressway – three years ago – before the boom hit the area.

Proprietor of the car wash, Sangay Tshering, said that when he started the business, there was hardly any car wash facility other than in the auto workshops.

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“I was one of the first to open near the expressway and the business was doing great. Today, with so many car wash facilities in the same area, business has gone down,” Sangay Tshering said. “Car wash owners are bringing down price so that they can attract customers who want cheap and fast service.”

When people travel along the expressway, they notice a car wash packed with vehicles they think that the business is doing great. So, many new car wash facilities are coming up, said Sangay Tshering. “That’s why, today, we can see so many car wash facilities and the competition has doubled. It’s good for customers to be able to select where they want to wash their vehicles.”

That was not the case a decade ago. Many vehicle owners still recall the long hours they had to wait to wash their cars in the workshop because there weren’t many places where they could wash their car.

“I remember how we had to wait for four to five hours to wash car in a workshop. We had to stand right next to it so that the guy will do a good job,” Sangay Tshering said. “So, I wanted to open a car-washing facility, which not only provides quick but also efficient service. I wanted to open a place where one can simply relax and not have to worry about their vehicle.”

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About 25 to 30 vehicles visit daily. Sangay Tshering charges between Nu 350 to Nu 500 depending on the kind of service car owners seek.

Kuenphen Car Wash, another car-washing facility along the expressway, is giving ST Auto Car Spa and others a tough competition.

Everyday, about 40 to 60 vehicles visit Kuenphen Car Wash. Services charges range from Nu 140 to Nu 400.

A staff at the Kuenphen Car Wash said the business is going well. “It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to complete washing and polishing the interior and exterior of the car depending on the size and model of the vehicle.”

Kuenphen Car Wash also has a canteen where vehicle owners can relax and watch when their vehicle is being washed. They employ around 14 employees that cater to the customer needs.

And there is Xpress Car Wash, not very far from Kuenphen Car Wash and ST Auto Car Spa. Besides providing manual to automated car-washing facilities, services such as spa, salon, fitness gym and café are also located near the facility.

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Manager of the Xpress Car Wash said they opened the car wash to cater to the needs of the customers.

“So far, vehicles are washed in a traditional way, which is unprofessional. When one uses the cloth detergent, it strips away the wax and shine protection of the vehicle. Keeping that in mind, we provide scientifically developed car washing chemicals that doesn’t contain water or soap,” the Manager said.

Xpress Car Wash charges from Nu 200 to 300 for washing services, which takes about 15 minutes to complete and up to Nu 6,000 for detailing.

Car-washing facilities such as the Xpress Car Wash and ST Auto Spa have been embracing latest technologies and services to attract customers as competition gets tougher.

However, environmental concerns remain a huge challenge when the number of car-washing facilities increase as effluents are released into the river bodies. There are also those who maintain environmentally-friendly measures in their car-washing facility.

Sangay Tshering said that despite the increasing car-washing facilities that have come up, the agencies concerned fail to inspect whether they are following standard procedures to address environmental issues.

“It is very important for car wash owners to adopt environmentally-friendly measures and security systems for their customers and employees,” he said.

Sangay Tshering said that about 80 percent of water that is released as waste from car wash facility is recycled. “We also use vehicle detergent and shampoo with no phosphate content. No one seems to care, even so. It’s high time that relevant agencies checked whether car-washing facilities are following environmentally-friendly measures.”

Run-off from car wash facilities contains oil, toxic detergents and other chemicals that affect the water quality and threaten aquatic lives and the entire food chain, said Sangay Tshering. Business should be conducted responsibly, he added.

Thinley Zangmo

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