Improving public transport should be the first priority to ease traffic congestion, according to a public transport specialist, who is also an Asian Development Bank (ADB) consultant, Gordon K Neilson.

The specialist pointed this during a high-level stakeholder workshop held on Thimphu public transport on May 11 after the works and human settlement ministry requested the ADB for some technical assistance to review the current public transport situation and propose improvements that could be undertaken in the short term to ease increasing traffic congestion in the city.

Gordon K Neilson said that 50 percent of families in Thimphu own a car. Car registration increased by 11 percent last year and congestion is beginning to appear at key locations.

He said that taxi is the main mode of public transport. “Buses carry a very small share of the total travel demand.”

Gordon K Neilson said that with the population and income growth, people opt to buy cars and without any vehicle restrictions, it is important to find out how the city can cope with the traffic congestion issue.

“If you don’t want the number of cars on the road to increase, it is must to improve the public transport,” he said.

He also said that public transport should not be just for students and the poor. It should be attractive to a high proportion of the population and meet almost all their needs. “It should be affordable for everybody.”

The specialist said that if people, even after providing good public transport, chose to use other modes of transport, authorities must introduce other measures like high parking fees and fewer parking spaces.

He said that a good bus service is a measure of a caring and competent government. “It helps young, non-drivers and those who doesn’t own a car,” the specialist said. “Good public transport is a good indication of a good governance.”

Gordon K Neilson also recommended the improved frequency of the bus services especially during the peak hours, increasing the bus service hours, increasing supervision of fare collection, change of ticketing system to enable sustainability of the services and increasing buses for the busy routes.

The works and human settlement minister, Dorji Choden, said the increasing traffic congestion in Thimphu has been a concern for everyone.

The works and human settlement ministry and Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) came together along with stakeholders to address the growing transport issue.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that the workshop is timely as everyone in the city started to feel the impact of traffic congestion.

MoIC minister DN Dhungyel said that Thimphu is a small city but it has about 3,000 taxis and 50 buses plying around on a daily basis. The number of private vehicles plying on the city road is much more. “The problem of traffic congestion is increasing every day.”

He said that it took him unusually longer to reach the MoWHS to attend the workshop yesterday. “I was caught up in a traffic,” the minister said. “We have to find out a solution to ease traffic congestion immediately.”

City bus Service (CBS) transport director, Sonam Dendup, said that the CBS is already carrying out most of the recommendations while some are under process. “We will further see how best we can do to improve our services.”

Gordon K Neilson also pointed out that there is a need for an agency between the high-level policy or financial decision makers and the bus operators.

He said that in most countries, it is the city authorities who are responsible for the specifications of urban public transport service. “If this practice is adopted here then Thimphu Thromde would be the responsible agency. This might be best done through setting up a transport unit within the Thromde.”

Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that without a budget it would be difficult to improve the service.

He said that the thromde and the CBS recently started a bus service for students of two schools in Thimphu on a pilot basis. “To pick and drop all the students of the two schools, it requires 14 buses.”

The thrompon said that many students, including teachers, want to avail the bus service but they can’t increase the number of buses.

The thrompon recommended that if the public transport in the city is to improve then the government will have to give priority and provide an additional budget. “I will not be able to improve public transport service until enough resources are allocated.”

Dechen Tshomo