Many would remember that some years ago Sajha Yatayat was running buses, from its depot at Pulchowk. The bus service went into liquidation but has now been restarted with a fleet of longer and bigger green buses, that ply on the medium sized ring road of Kathmandu and also along its smaller streets. Some months ago a new company when trying to get some Metro buses rolling on the city roads was showered with stones by a group of rowdies. Now there are prospects of more buses (perhaps even electric ones) for service in Kathmandu. Yet another is that a fleet of Orange Buses of a company under the jurisdiction of the 22 Nagarpalikas of the Kathmandu valley will soon be in service. With such schemes and pulls in many directions, will anything come about?
We Nepalis (though not all) being plagued with poverty or pranks by youngsters have disturbed the status quo. In the past events such as stealing and melting down the telephone or trolley bus wires took place occasionally. Sometimes goods being transported on the ropeways were stolen and later this service hauling goods ultimately failed because of the antics of the truck drivers who brought this about. Even now there are transport syndicates which enforce fantastic rates for travel on a countrywide basis, harassing the people at large. Not only are the prices of travel controlled by them, the drivers of heavy vehicles make sure that any pedestrian or two-wheeler rider injured by them in accidents is deliberately run over and killed so that hospital charges are not incurred and only minimal compensation is paid by the union and the driver involved.
Some years ago there was great deal of pollution in the capital because of the blue Vikram tempos belching forth black fumes along our roads. Facilities provided by the government to replace these machines were by gas or electric Safa Tempos plying along the roads and by-ways of Kathmandu. Some tempo owners, real or attributed benefitted because of facilities to convert to taxis. Few of these, with their black fumes were then transported to serve the towns of the Terai! To meet the mobility needs of the capital, many minivans with white and black number plates, at the sponsorship of some specified politicians, were then subsequently allowed on the Kathmandu streets!
Now that our streets are congested with many vehicles on the roads, a new scheme is on the horizon. The imposition of heavy import duties has not deterred the nouveau riche, nor lessened the enthusiasm of the car dealers. What is being touted is to replace the tempos, taxis, minivans and smaller buses with bigger vehicles which will carry more people. Double decker buses may be even better on our crowded roads provide they are not obstructed by our overhead electric wires!
The big vehicles, because of their size have to start and spurt forward to get momentum. This means that the crossing of roads by our pedestrians, can be hazardous and we can look forward to more accidents. The injuries and deaths will be augmented by two-wheeler riders who overtake on the right and left, zig zagging across oncoming traffic will.
Most roads in the city are a mess? The current showpiece is the Tin Kune to Bhaktapur built by Japanese aid. Though the road was been well designed with different level alignments to control entry into this highway, the surprising fact is that there are no flyovers anywhere. Right turns allowed on this motorway can always cause accidents. Ostensively the flyovers were not made because Nepal is an earthquake prone country. This was confirmed when parts of the road were damaged, but had the expertise of the Japanese technology been utilised, it would certainly have opened the eyes of the engineers of our Department of Roads to make better roads. Our own efforts to make Kathmandu eco-friendly at the time of the last SAARC Conference by planting trees all along are now in a sorry state and crying out for water!
A good effort is being done by making connecting roads along the Bagmati, Manohara, and Bishnumati rivers and also separate bridges for one way flow of traffic on each bridge. However such structures must also enable vehicles to travel below so that a 'No Right Turn' becomes the norm for driving.
A word of thanks to BRB who, when he was premier of Nepal, had the courage to authorise the widening of Kathmandu roads. Because of him traffic moves a little faster in Kathmandu. The sad part is that the road works are still not completed and we still suffer.
The crux of the matter about any mass transit system is that it should be taken as a facility to be provided to the city dwellers. Up until about 50 years ago, one talked with admiration about the Underground train of London and the Metros of Paris, New York and Moscow. These metropolises of developed countries were quicker and more widely used than the vehicles above ground. Now cities, much nearer to us i.e. New Delhi and Kolkata have such mass transportation facilities. A Metro service combining both under and above surface trains is on the drawing board and envisaged as the service for Kathmandu. Another is a Rs. 50 Billion Monorail project to cover the 28.55 kilometres of the Ring Road. However whichever local or central authority that comes to rule over the denizens of this town should not look at this mass transportation in the capital as a money making or spinning enterprise but rather as a facility to the citizens.
The author writes fiction under the name of Mani Dixit. Website: www.hdixit.org.np. Twitter: @manidixithd