Aiming for a sustainable low-emission urban transport system is good. Transition is expected to begin with promotion of electric vehicles (EVs) among the taxi owners in Thimphu because taxis run all day long and contribute to emission the most. But there is today a need to look beyond emission and electric vehicles.
In 2014, when electric vehicle initiative was launched, it was quickly pushed out in the cold because electric vehicles were beyond the affordability of many Bhutanese drivers and charging stations were few and far between, which presented a formidable problem for long distance travel. The Royal Monetary Authority has now approved loan-ceiling increase to 50 percent from 30 percent to encourage more than 4,000 taxis running on fossil fuel to switch over to electric vehicles. About 23 quick charging stations will be installed to promote electric and low emission vehicles, the demand for which will only grow over time.
These incentives, however, hang in the balance. Owning and driving fossil fuel car is by far cheaper and preferable to electric and low emission vehicles. Implementation of ideas has seldom been our greatest strength.
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. And 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 is at the best absurd. It simply cannot be done unless our transport system, especially in the bigger population centres, offers better and convenient alternatives. But there are practical ways to deal with these challenges in urban Bhutan. It can be done. Only we have faltered about for too long. There is today 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.
Around the world, public transport is often associated with progress. In the bigger cities, it is found to be more convenient, efficient and cheaper mode of travel. In the future when roads become more crowded, building infrastructure for public transport will be expensive.
It is long time past we thought about alternative transport modes that not only improve mobility but also reduce impact on environment. Our modes of transport and systems of transport planning should be consistent with wider concerns of sustainability, of course. 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.
We could think of lower emission buses with financial support. Making public transport an accessible, attractive, low carbon and easy-to-use option could help reduce vehicle import and congestion problems. Better coordination and integration of different services is critically important, however.