Oped

Bus Rapid Transit

  • Can it be a panacea for public transportation woes in Kathmandu?
- BIDUR TIMALSINA

Apr 14, 2019-

The state is responsible for regulating or managing most public transport systems globally, with a few exceptions. Contrary to the global trend, the public transport sector in our country is dominated by the private sector. They have created such a large and powerful syndicate system that even the government, despite its recent attempt, could not break their monopoly, or regulate the sector in an effective and efficient way to offer people the convenient means of mobility. Even though new private companies have started services, no substantial transformation in quality of the services has been realised. The service providers are only profit oriented and it has led to inefficiency, unreliable service, unhealthy competition, passenger discomfort etc. The total privatisation of this sector has proven to be a disaster.

The haphazard condition of public transportation and rising per capita income means people are relying on other alternatives, especially private cars and two wheelers, as there are not many other options. The cities, which are already congested and suffering from air pollution, are being overcrowded with cars and two wheelers. The roads in our cities lack basic road safety requirements and regulations; we have a culture of not following traffic rules, unless being forced to by traffic police personnel that are physically present. Besides the congestion and polluting emissions that stem from private vehicular traffic growth, this trend of purchasing vehicles produced abroad has helped further increase Nepal’s ballooning trade deficit. In short, urban growth has caused for decreased individual mobility.

The cure for this malaise is a complete overhaul of public transportation services. This warrants  lessening people’s dependency on private vehicles, and working towards innovating and incentivising the usage of public transportation.

Metro rail and mono rail have already been proposed as solutions, but while doing so, it seems that the total cost of construction and operation have not been considered properly. Moreover, metro lines only cover limited geographical areas, resulting in low occupancy rates in a city like Kathmandu, where people reside in all directions and places which cannot be incorporated into straight routes. If the private vehicles and rail transit systems are not viable options, the most obvious solution is enhanced and efficient public bus service. An innovative alternative public transportation system is the Bus Rapid transit (BRT), which is a relatively easy system to implement at reasonable costs.

According to researchers and transportation experts Llyod Wright and Walter Hook, in their 2007 guide on Bus Rapid Transit implementation, ‘BRT is a high-quality bus-based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable, and cost-effective urban mobility through the provision of segregated right-of-way infrastructure, rapid and frequent operations, and excellence in marketing and customer service. BRT essentially emulates the performance and amenity characteristics of a modern rail-based transit system but at a fraction of the cost.’ The BRT system operates on the basis of these components viz. vehicles that operate in exclusive bus lanes. It uses stations like in metro rail, where boarding is easy, vehicles are often electric, service is frequent, routes are often color-coded, fare is collected pre-boarding, among other things that make transits faster and more efficient. Additionally, the system has social, economic and environmental benefits along with providing respite from urban congestion.

Crucial factors such asappropriate design standards, the right institutional setup and strong political will are imperatives for successful implementation.

There are cases of success—the Janmarg BRT in Ahmedabad—and disastrous failure—Delhi BRT—in the implementation of BRT in our immediate neighbourhood. We need to answer two fundamental questions regarding the implementation of BRT, to see whether it will be successful here. First, should this system be implemented by the state or by private entities, considering the lessons learnt from other public transport services in Nepal? Second, are we ready for this system, especially in our ability to build and maintain the infrastructure and in our political will to see it through?

With regard to the first question, the government should be the main playerin all public transportation services—not only BRT. We have already witnessed the results of when this is left to the private sector alone. The second question is more critical, because we seem to lack both requirements. Bus service providers, proponents of mono-metro rail systems and private vehicle owners could place a robust challenge against any new form of transport.

Also, our infrastructural capacity is not at a level where we can implement BRT without significant outside help. The only available routes that can allocate separate right of way paths for BRT are the recently completed Koteswor-Kalanki section of the ring road and the Suryabinayak-Koteswor section of the Araniko Highway. Furthermore, BRT demands low numbers of intersections crossing its routes, if there are any, and priority at traffic stops should be given to BRT lanes. The two proposed routes in their current iteration fail in this respect.

In conclusion, choosing the appropriate mass rapid transit is an important but difficult process. The involvement of various interest groups make it a highly political subject too. However, making the right choice and implementing it well could have far reaching political gains. BRT is the most appropriate option for Kathmandu Valley. But it should not be implemented hastily. Proper research, studies, and debates regarding its design and management need to be conducted. However, Kathmandu’s transport, traffic and pollution woes are only increasing day by day, and the need for an efficient, safe and implementable system is urgent.

Timalsina tweets at @lonelybidur

Published: 14-04-2019 08:24

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