RSTA explores means to encourage physical distancing in public transport

Younten Tshedup 

With restrictions imposed on travels, the  Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) is exploring a middle-path approach to encourage physical distancing in public transportation sector.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on restricting all non-essential and leisure travels within the country, RSTA is drafting a standard operating procedure (SOP), which would be submitted to the Cabinet on Monday.

RSTA’s officiating director general, Ugyen Norbu, said that facilitating the provision of physical distancing in public transportation could possibly bring down the carrying capacity of vehicles by more than 50 percent.

This would bring about a notable financial implication on the operators. “The biggest concern would be the viability of the transport business once the provision is enforced,” he said.    

“This is a profit oriented sector and allowing only the transport operators to take the financial brunt would be unwise.”


Potential  proposals    

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering at a press conference yesterday said that the government would not allow escalation of public transportation fare. But RSTA is considering this as one of the options.

The intention of this option, however, is to compliment the government’s instruction to deter public from taking unnecessary travels, said Ugyen Norbu.

He said that by increasing the fare only those commuters who genuinely require travelling would avail the service.

The second proposal would be that the government bear all the expenses that would result from the downsizing seating capacity. “However, given the current situation, it would be insensitive to put all the burden on the government,” he said.

He said that the authority is also hopeful that some of the operators would understand the situation and agree to consider the entire financial burden. “However, we have more than 40 bus operators today and not all would agree to this idea.”

Therefore, a middle-path decision would have to be agreed upon considering views from all the stakeholders involved, he added. “We might have to come up with some strategies where all the parties involved carry certain portion of the financial burden.”

Acknowledging the importance of minimising contacts among people as effective fight against the infection, Lyonchhen said that the government has put in stricter restraints on travels, public gatherings, business and entertainment including games and sports to prevent the spread of the disease.

The RSTA, Lyonchhen said, has been instructed to design and implement strategies for passengers using public transports to maintain physical distance.

Ugyen Norbu said that besides public buses, the same regulation would also apply to taxi operators and city buses operated by Bhutan Post. “We would also consider private vehicles during our discussion before submitting the SOP to the cabinet for approval.”

Given the challenges involved in implementing ad hoc regulations, it was learnt that required time would be considered before enforcing the SOP. Until then, business would be as usual.

Ugyen Norbu said that even otherwise, people travelling in buses especially along the primary routes have reduced almost by 50 percent following the detection of Covid-19 positive cases in the country.

The bus between Thimphu and Phuentsholing which otherwise carries more than 20 passengers daily are seen with only five to six commuters today.

Meanwhile, Lyonchhen also said that Bhutanese travelling abroad must seek prior approval from foreign ministry even before one starts processing formalities for the travel.