The price of fuel in the country has hit an all-time high with a litre of petrol priced at Nu 81.54 and diesel at Nu 80.06. It will have repercussions that reach beyond those who own vehicles or those who rely on vehicles for a livelihood.

The increase in fuel pricing comes at a difficult time. Inflation is already high, with the rising cost of essentials attributed to the increasing cost of transportation. The pandemic is impacting the country. It is the low- and middle-income group that is affected the most.

We have no control over the fuel prices. Fuel pricing is a result of what happens in the global fuel market. The outlook is not good, with experts predicting a crisis in the energy market. From crude oil to natural gas and electricity, generated from various sources, the energy market has become unstable globally.

What we do have control over is policies that could reduce the impact of global energy demand, uncertainties, and fluctuations. We have, for decades, emphasized alternatives. However, the clean and sustainable transport system that we have talked about for years is not translating into action.

The fuel price hike comes as a good reminder. It is time, for instance, to make authorities implement the electric vehicle project seriously. We need an efficient, clean, and sustainable transport system. We have to rely less on carbon-intensive fuels like petrol and diesel. There is an imbalance in the energy trade. We import more fossil fuels than we export electricity.

The electric vehicle project, which started seven years ago, has not made much progress yet. Many taxi drivers who ordered electric vehicles through Bhutan Sustainable Low Emission Urban Transport System are still waiting to drive their electric taxis.  We cannot keep blaming the Covid-19 pandemic for our inefficiency.

Improving the public transport system is another step towards providing a local solution so that owning a car is not a necessity for everyone. Owning a car has become a necessity because we lack alternatives. A reliable, affordable, and efficient public transport in the cities, between dzongkhags and gewogs, could be an alternative.

The demand for fuel will keep increasing. We have the highest number of vehicle ownership per 1,000 people in the SAARC region. With almost 20 new vehicles hitting our roads a day, even during a pandemic, the demand for fuel will only grow.

In Thimphu, the present city bus service, even with a lot of improvements, has not been able to cater to the increasing population. The plans to improve the reliability and efficiency of urban transport are there, but the plans take time to translate into action.

As a country championing the environment and the people’s wellbeing, using more energy-efficient modes of transport and improving transport choices for people would complement our claims.  As a landlocked country, our dependence on land transport will continue, but there are other means to curtail the dependence on fossil fuels. 

An efficient public transportation system fueled by clean energy could be a solution.