Improving urban public transport

An electric beep alerts the waiting passengers seated on steel benches at a bus stop- “Your next bus is arriving in two minutes.” The passengers ready their smartcard. The bus arrives on time.

The passengers queue to get in, allowing those alighting to get down first. They tag on and tag off with their card. The bus leaves. A lady’s voice is heard on the public address system, welcoming the passengers and informing them about the next few stops. There is an electronic sign in Dzongkha and English displaying the next stop. After that, some messages appear- Say no to plastic… keep Thimphu clean and green…

Imagination? Yes. Impossible? No.

This is an integral part of public transport system in many countries. They are known to be very efficient and convenient. In Bhutan, this could be a reality, at least with some of them, in the near future. A model will be set up by November.

A study on an intelligent transport system (ITS) in the capital to improve public transport has made several recommendations. Most are not beyond our capacity and affordability, although it will cost the government dearly.

The need for a cheap, reliable and efficient public transport system has been expressed decades ago. That was when the traffic was not as congested as today. Even with heavy tax and a temporary ban, vehicle numbers are increasing. For every nine Bhutanese, there is a vehicle if we go by the number of vehicles in the country. Public transport, even with a master plan, couldn’t keep up.

Public transport may not discourage people from buying cars, but if there is reliable and cheap transport system, many will use them. This has other advantages. We are reeling under the pressure of heavy imports of fuel, for instance. Without that people avail loan and buy cars.

Among the many recommendations, some are what people complain everyday, like the need for proper bus stops and pick and drop sites. Even without a study, everybody knows that this is a problem, both for traffic and passengers.

A cost analysis on introducing an effacement fare system will show that in the long run, it will be profitable to have something like electronic cards than relying on the driver’s assistance. It is already pointed out out that fare leakage in urban public transport is widespread and deeply rooted – and largely uncontrolled.

If leakages were prevented, it would mean more revenue to improve the service. The public bus transport is subsidised by the government today. We also have some private transport in the same city that are making profit.

In the age of technology, especially mobile technology, a lot of things can be done to ensure easy and hassle free travel. Some technologies are readily available and not expensive. Perhaps what we are missing is the will to do it.

Others like changing drivers’ behavior need no technology. Passengers could be taught some traffic rules too. Charging him 50 percent of the penalty for causing a taxi to stop outside the pick up or drop zones could encourage them to wait at the designated areas.

1 reply
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    Given the size of population as well as the area of the cities, a lot more technology can easily be implemented successfully in the public transport system of the country. All these imaginations of today are true possibilities for tomorrow.

    More than the cost of the technologies to be implemented for enhanced public transport service delivery, the cost of the each vehicle to be acquired remains the major factor in the overall profitability model. If the assets depreciate its value faster, even the technologies implemented on board will loss its value. So how many vehicles will be required to deliver transport needs of a rather smaller population?

    No matter what the quality of public transport service delivery; in a country of mainly just all roads, private mode of transport will always hold its importance and requirements. Transport needs and travel behaviour of the local people need to be considered. If a commuter is happy waiting at the bus stop for hours or he is not planning his trip ahead at all, the technologies in place will not come to good use. We don’t plan our daily travel needs and time to be consumed travelling every morning the way it gets done in some other countries. Here, it’s always more about price of the tickets in public transport.

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