It is 8am. Sonam Dema begins her drive to work from Jungshina to Changzamtok. But she is not alone. There is already a long queue of cars on the Dechhog Lam near the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH building.
“I started early thinking that the traffic would be light at this hour,” she says. But it took her an hour to get to work.
A resident of Jungshina, Tashi Phuntsho said that he moves from home at 7am. “My daughter misses her class if we don’t start early.”
One reason why Thimphu experiences heavy traffic today is the closure of the Zilukha to Hejo. The road has been closed to complete construction of the four-lane road, according to a notification from Thimphu Thromde.
Traffic Superintendent of Police Lt Colonel Namgay said that traffic congestion was because of increasing density of vehicles in the city.
According to the Annual Info-comm and Transport Statistical Bulletin 2021, there were 112,058 vehicles registered in 2020 which is a five percent increase from 2019. A total of 3,743 light vehicles were registered in 2020, a 5.4 percent increase from 2019.
The traffic SP said that another reason for the congestion was convergence points. The Norzin Lam, for example, has vehicles from Nordzin Lam, Chhoeten Lam and Dzogchhen Lam converging.
To ease the traffic congestion, he said the thromde could improve the existing roads. “Potholes are another reason for traffic congestion,” he said. Drivers divert their vehicles from the potholes slowing down other vehicles on the road.
He also said that when road signs are unclear drivers become confused on the road cross-section, causing congestion.
Roadside parking and poor drainage causing sewage overflow also cause traffic congestions.
The police monitor the traffic on the CCTV and detour the vehicles from one road to another, and monitor roundabouts in the city to ease the traffic.
The public should consider carpooling if they work in the same place or stay in the same locality, SP Namgay said. Arranging buses for students could be another solution, he added.
Thimphu Thromde’s chief urban planner, Thinley Norbu, said that there would be a reduction in the traffic once the four-way lane is completed. “Sometimes we cannot just develop the infrastructure, there has to be some policy intervention as well.”
Thinley Norbu said that the thromde was trying to address the issue within its capacity. He said that development activities in the city must happen as per the Thimphu Structural Plan (TSP).
However, the plan is being reviewed. “After the review which may continue for one and a half years we are anticipating plans on the transport system,” Thinley Norbu said.
The thromde has no major plans to address the traffic congestion because the structural plan after review might undergo major changes. “If we work on a piecemeal basis then it is likely that there will be issues later,” he said.
The Lungtenzampa Bridge is one of the many places in the city that experience traffic congestions because of the schools nearby.
Thinley Norbu said that the thromde was exploring construction of a footbridge for students in the Lungtenzampa area.
He said that the thromde was planning the construction of a new bridge between the Lungtenzampa and Dechen Zam bridge and continuing the ring road from Druk School to Debsi.
Moreover, Thromde has approved the State Trading Corporation of Bhutan’s plan for the construction of a fuel depot between Langjophakha and Taba.
To decongest the town, he said that areas for construction of LPG depots have been identified and that the LPG depot would be constructed based on the zoning system (North Mega, Central I and II, and South Mega Zone).
“This will allow people to avail the services within their respective zones in case of a lockdown.” Another initiative to decongest the town was the construction of vegetable markets across the city.
Lack of a reliable public transport system is another reason for traffic congestions.
Pema Wangmo, 24, from Olakha said that the public transport service was not efficient, and unreliable. “Carpooling is not popular. Individuals drive their own cars.”
The Bhutan Green Transport Project, a yearlong project, is expected to improve the public transport system. A component of the project is exploring the capacity to have a Bus Rapid Transit system that will be faster, more comfortable and cost-effective for commuters in the city.
Thinley Norbu said that the project would study public transportation and its modalities. “The consultant of the project will also look into the city’s mobility issues.”
City Bus Service’s new route system
The City Bus Service’s officiating director, Sangay Dorji, said that his company was planning to introduce a new route system similar to the Bus Rapid Transit system after the completion of the four-way lane that will serve as a trunk road. A trunk road connects two or more places that have segregated lanes on the road.
If one of the lanes is dedicated for buses then the service will be reliable, he said. According to the new route system, two areas, Babesa Zero Point and Dechencholing will serve as bus bay.
There will be buses every 10s minutes between the two bus bays. There will be buses on the feeder roads that will pick passengers and drop them on the trunk road.
Sangay Dorji said: “The advantage of this system is the coverage of bus service in all parts of the city.” The office will receive new buses by this November.
He said that with the current bus system, the outreach of bus service was less because the buses have to come to the terminal covering the only main route. People residing in areas like Thimphu TechPark or Hindu Temple cannot avail the bus service.
According to him, the new buses will be equipped with a smart card system and Global Positioning System (GPS) that will complement the GPS coordination system present in the new route system.
In addition, the GPS coordination system will allow commuters to know the real-time location of the bus, he said.
Sangay Dorji said that lack of expertise was a challenge. “We have made plans based on the ground realities that we experienced.”