Transport: With the government more or less having secured Nu 303.6 million (USD 4.6 million) with help from the World Bank, Thimphu city’s public transportation network is set for a much needed upgrade that should be completed by 2018.

The acquired fund will be used to upgrade 77 bus stops in the capital city and purchase 18 buses.

There are currently at least 105 bus stops in the city, the majority simply open ground marked by sign posts, with no other amenities provided. These bus stops are connected by 34 buses operated by Bhutan Post.

Those identified for up-gradation will resemble bus stops in developed countries. Shelters with seating for at least five passengers will be constructed. Notices displaying information on bus routes, timetables, fares and whom to contact incase of grievances will be included.

There will also be a focus on ensuring that the bus stops are easily accessible and friendly to pedestrians.

Improved footpaths linking the bus stop to other pedestrian access points and zebra crossings within a 50 metre radius of the stop will be required.

Adequate drainage to ensure that the points of boarding or exiting buses are kept free from standing water will also be in place.

Thimphu thromde and Bhutan Post will have to ensure that the bus stops meet these criteria for funds to be released by the bank.

The World Bank support will also cover the purchase of 18 buses and the development of bus control system consisting of a Global Positioning System monitoring and centralized data control system.

The bank’s support will also look to introduce a preventative maintenance regime for buses. “To date City Bus Co. has struggled with effective maintenance,” it is said in World Bank document available on its website for public disclosure.

“During 2014 there were periods where 1/3 of the bus fleet was inoperable due to unplanned maintenance events and difficulties in sourcing spare replacement parts,” it is added.

Pre-paid punch cards, monthly or semi-annual or smart cards will also be explored as a means of encouraging cashless ticketing.

A marketing campaign to encourage more people to shift from private transport to public transport will also be pursued. “As the quality and reliability of Thimphu’s public transport network improves there may be an opportunity to expand the target market for bus services to higher income households and non-resident visitors,” it is pointed out. The higher income customers are also being seen as providing an importance source for improving the viability of the higher quality bus services.

“To date, City Bus Co. has undertaken basic marketing steps such as branding buses with the recognizable logo ‘Take a ride and be happy’ and reaching out to parents of school children,” it is stated. “However, there has been limited use of media, pricing incentives, and other techniques to shape demand.”

Giving commuters more control over trip planning by leveraging Thimphu’s mobile internet network and web-based applications is another target.

An official with the information and communications ministry said that 90 percent of the fund has been secured. The last step that remains is for an agreement to be established between the conferenced agencies.

“The World Bank came with an offer to explore funding through a trust fund called the Global Partnership on Output-Based Aid (GPOBA), an innovative way to sourcing fund,” the official said. “The World Bank was requested to process this fund amounting to roughly 4.6 million USD for urban transport in Thimphu.”

Implementation of the project is slated to begin by July next year and end by 2018. “One component of the project is to procure buses which will improve public transport and will help ease congestion and related problems,” the official said. “In addition some 77 new bus shelters will be constructed linked to pedestrian network. Through capacity building of the bus service agency  and other institutional reform will have impact on the service delivery.”

Meanwhile, a model bus stop on the express way is due to be inaugurated on December 14.

Gyalsten K Dorji