Bhutan’s public transport system is in total disarray and it needs immediate fixing.
Our development experience has been maddeningly swift along of reasons impelled upon us a late starter on the road to modernisation. And, we recognised early on, that public transport system, especially in growing urban Bhutan, could pose a serious problem in the coming days.
That future time of our early awakening is now come and we are left to face our worst nightmares.
Some glimmer of hope we have seen, all too often—there have been talks and debates, every once in a while, about the need to address this growing problem, but somehow we could not put our mind to it. We have, finally, a national transport policy, but this document has been gathering dust somewhere.
The dream of providing the people with a safe, reliable, affordable, convenient, cost-effective and environmentally-friendly transport system, in support of socioeconomic development of the country—pulled straight out of the policy—is becoming more elusive by the day.
Thimphu is perhaps the worst example of our failure to deal with growing problem which is threatening to become unmanageable. In many ways, it has already gone out of our hands. The problem of congestion has reached the peak, not forgetting the growing emission problem today.
The country, going by the latest record, has 104,963 vehicles. Bhutan imported 3,270 vehicles in the first half of 2019. Of the total, about 30 per cent of the vehicles is in Thimphu. More vehicles lead to more accidents. This year, as of August, there were 31, 978 motor vehicle accidents. The number is alarming.
The government is wont to using words such as “revolutionising” and “harmonising” when it comes to the need to improve public transport system in the country. Without real effort, however, they mean little to the people.
But, according to officials, there are plans which are in early stages. This is not a new thing; we have heard this before. Nu 95.46 million in subsidy has been allocated to the city bus service for procurement of 37 buses in the fiscal year 2019-20, but there is no money. This too is not a new problem.
It is estimated that by 2040, bus requirement could reach more than 200 in Thimphu alone.
There is a need to look at this problem from the broader perspective. A good and efficient public transport system does not just mean more city buses and electric vehicles. Accessibility is a major problem for a large number of our people who live with disability.Improving public transport systems means improving infrastructure for access besides adequate buses and cars.
We have a lot to do in this area.
It is time the people and agencies responsible owned up to their failure to address this growing problem. It begins from the government down to thromde. No one can make himself scarce because the problem of congestion due to rising vehicle numbers will have serious implications to the nation’s long-term future.