Public transport makeover begins

Transport: Thimphu should have its first model designated bus stop in place by November, this year.

The bus stop which will be located on the expressway will have a bus shelter with seat under which commuters will be able to enjoy some extent of protection from the elements.

Designed with Bhutanese architectural aspects, a notice board that will show commuters the bus route, service timings, and rates will also be on display.

The feasibility of providing a real-time information display panel is being considered. Such a panel would display the current location of the bus and when it is due to arrive at the stop.

A bus bay will be included that will allow the bus to come off the expressway and not block traffic while passengers board or disembark.

A rubbish bin will also be placed beside the bus stop.

The model stop is part of an effort to improve public transport in Thimphu and the country as recommended by a study on implementing an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) in the capital city.

A number of observations and fixes for problems are suggested by the study.

It observes that currently buses operate like taxis, picking and dropping off passengers where ever they desire often blocking traffic and that buses stop on demand even at unsafe locations like bends and intersections. The study also observes that the distances between bus stops are too short and that commuters don’t use bus stops, among others.

The study recommends that firstly, designated bus stops be established which would require bus operators to adhere to the designated stops and improve efficiency of operations and instil a level of discipline in passenger behaviour, the report states.

ITS project manager Sonam Dhendup said that when funding is acquired other bus stops would be upgraded. There are at least 105 bus stops in Thimphu city.

While USD 20,000 is being spent for the model bus stop, all bus stops may not require the same kind of up gradation. The level of upgrade and funds would depend on the amount of usage of a stop.

The report also recommends establishing a second bus stand in Norzin Lam and upgrading the city bus stop located off Chang lam. Such a move would allow operation of the northern and southern bus routes to be split, allocating northern routes to the Norzin Lam bus stand.

A possible area to establish the second bus stand would be the middle two lane road located above the Taj Hotel, currently housing the craft bazar.

The report points out that pedestrian traffic crossing Norzin Lam to the current city bus stand will be reduced and congestion eased. “It will also indicate that authorities are serious about improving public bus services,” it says.

The creation and use of a Bus Information System (BIS), that will provide commuters with both real-time and static information about the bus network, for instance, the route map of a bus and where its current location is, and when it might reach a particular bus stop is also recommended.

A BIS for one regional bus operator has already been piloted.

The system allows for the observer to track the bus in real-time, monitor its speed, location and arrival and departure times. It is capable of alerting the concerned agency if there is an accident via email or SMS. It also able to record live footage from a CCTV placed inside the bus.

The study recommends that the government make it compulsory for all regional bus services to install such technology in phased manner.

It is estimated that the cost of such an installation will be a global positioning system costing USD 150 and a WiFi connection device at around USD 100.

Introducing an electronic ticketing system is also recommended. “In Bhutan fare leakage in urban public transport is widespread and deeply rooted – and largely uncontrolled,” the report says, adding that up to 30 percent may be leaked according to a World Bank specialist. By using an electronic system, leakage would be minimised and the revenue used to improve services.

The report says that smart cards may be too costly for Bhutan at present and therefore a mixed-mode ticketing system be introduced by early next year.

This mixed-mode would still include cash payments, but also introduce paper passes purchased in stores, and pre-paid cards that can be topped up online. The latter two would be “read” or verified at the door of the bus.

The use of paper passes is currently being piloted by Bhutan Post.

Use of mobile payments using mobile phones is also highlighted as an eventuality.

Other improvements suggested include installing CCTV inside the buses for safety and at bus stops. Ticket dispensing machines and frequent traveller cards are also recommended.

In terms of operation, a public-private partnership (PPP) model is explored. “The current arrangement is not satisfactory, and without change the desired outcomes will unlikely be achieved,” the report points out.

It is also pointed out that the shortfall in operating costs was Nu 18.1 million in 2013/14 which the government had to subsidise and that this will grow to Nu 93.8 million in ten years.

The study suggests a phased approach by privatising a route in the form of PPP.

“The proposition is to test the market to introduce competition in the market place but not on routes,” the study says.

The study was carried out by an international consultant for the information and communications ministry.

Gyalsten K Dorji

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