The project to introduce sustainable low-emission urban transport system in the country seems still to have made not much headway beyond vague and woolly planning processes in the bureaucratic corridors. In other words, we may have almost fully laid to waste the first of the three-year (2019-2021) project timeline.

Although we haven’t heard even a tad bit about the 23 charging stations in Thimphu and nearby dzongkhags to give confidence and shape to the project, the news that the government is trying to procure 40 electric vehicles – 10 buses and 30 taxis to promote green and inclusive transport system in the country – is reassuring. If our collective memory serves us right, a feasibility study for installation of quick charging stations was carried out in Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Wangdue, Punakha, and Phuentsholing.

Aiming for a sustainable low-emission urban transport system is good. But perhaps there is today a need to look beyond emission and electric vehicles. Owning and driving fossil fuel car is by far cheaper and preferable to electric and low emission vehicles. In the bigger towns like Thimphu and Phuentsholing, the problem of congestion has been growing due to rise in the number of vehicles. And, urbanisation is picking pace like never before. According to Road Safety and Transport Authority, we have close to 100,000 vehicles in the country. The number is expected to grow with population and income growth. Our cities are already groaning under the pressure of traffic congestion and lack of parking space.

Putting a stop to vehicle import as a measure to address these emerging problems will not work. It simply cannot be done unless our transport system, especially in the bigger population centres, offers better and convenient alternatives. There is an urgent need of good and efficient public transport system in the country, which in the long run has the potential to solve congestion problem in the cities and help bring down emission by much. Developing our transport and systems of transport planning in line with wider concerns of sustainability is, therefore, both ambitious and desirable.

From the perspective of urban mobility, public transport is by far more efficient than personal motor vehicles. It uses less road space and consumes less energy. Making public transport an accessible, attractive, low carbon and easy-to-use option could help reduce vehicle import and congestion problems.

But then, we cannot afford to squander away the precious little time we have in our hands.