Needless to say, the urban transport system in Nepal, especially the capital, is in sorry state. Traffic congestion has gone haywire attributed to rapid increase in the ownership of private vehicles, limited transport infrastructures and poor transport demand management. And the situation is expected to worsen if there are no improvements in the existing transportation system.
Public transportation service in Kathmandu valley is worsening each day. People have no choice than to endure inefficient and discomfort service, or to opt individual motorized transport-largely motorbikes. High growth of private motor vehicles has contributed to air pollution and consequent health risks faced by the urban dwellers. Road safety, being neglected, is responsible for hundreds of fatalities each year.
Since inefficient mobility dampens economic growth, deteriorates the quality of life and paralyzes the sustainable functioning of the city, a policy, therefore, is needed on the approach dealing with growing problem, provide clear direction and framework for future action on sustainable urban transport development.
The future sustainability of the transport system will be greatly influenced by the policy, choice, planning and investment made today. Opting green transport now will help leapfrog to sustainable development path. Lesson ought to be learned from many developed countries, which have later realized, and now prioritizing mass transport over individualized transport system.
Integrated land use and transport planning
Urban transportation should be incorporated as an integral element of urban planning process. Land use planning should be done in a way to reduce travel distance and provide easy access to jobs, education and other social needs for the growing urban population. An integrated master plan is essential, that encourages the future growth of city around pre-planned transport network rather than to develop transport system after uncontrolled urban sprawl. Better urban transport planning and development not only help in improving existing urban sprawl but also contribute development of newer urban centers that supports both social and economic activities.
Equitable Sharing of Road Space
Currently the road spaces have been shared disproportionally. The private vehicles that carries one or two person each has disproportionally clogged the road leaving no space for buses that carries 40 to 50 people each. More pitiful is that the non-motorized transport users are literally squeezed out of the roads. So if the principle of equitable sharing of road space, with prioritizing people over vehicles, is to be respected then the government should encourage measures that provide more space to the public transport and non-motorized transport system. Devising policy to allocate exclusive or right-of-way lane for public transport vehicles and non-motorized modes of travel can achieve this.
The issue of accessibility of service by urban poor and marginal urban population should also be emphasized in the transport policy. We need to realize the fact that urban poor are the backbone for sustaining the urban development.
Prioritize Mass Transit System
To meet the mobility demand of densely populated urban areas, mass transit system is the primary option. The government should support the usage of higher occupancy buses and rail-based transit system. There should be clear policy to discourage the usage of family sized vans like microbuses, at least, from the primary corridors of the valley.
Metro rail can efficiently transfer large volume of passengers, however it should be noted that planning, development and operation of metro system is very expensive and takes longer time to execute. Most of the cities operating metro or light rail transit are run by operational subsidy from the government. Bus-based transit system is more suitable for not well-off and comparably less dense cities like Kathmandu valley. In fact a well planned bus-based transit system with dedicated lanes ‘Bus Rapid Transit system’ is more affordable and flexible; performs better and provides better service comparable to rail-based system in relatively lower price.
Its exclusive or right-of-way lanes, which greatly increases the vehicle speed and reduces travel time, thus making it competitive with car travel. The dedicated bus lanes not only help efficient transfer of large number of people but also provide co-benefits for recovering the air quality of the Kathmandu valley.
Hence, it would be wise to invest in improving bus-based transit system. Ensuring the reliability, convenience and safety of bus service, will encourage people to opt the system rather than private vehicles for their daily mobility, a simpler solution for increasing traffic congestion.
Devising policy to encourage greater use of public transport and non-motorized transport modes by building affordable, efficient and safer infrastructures and services would certainly help to achieve the vision of livable city. To meet the growing travel demands, a well-integrated multi-modal public transport system should be adopted and discourage the usage of private vehicles.
Prioritized Non-Motorized Transport System
Almost all travel in Kathmandu valley starts and ends with walking. On contrary, importance of non-motorized modes of transport like walking and cycling are apparently not realized as an integral component of sustainable urban mobility.
The policy should encourage the establishment of safe, comfortable, spacious sidewalks and other pedestrians’ infrastructures such as zebra crossings, traffic signals and streetlights. It is also important to carry out traffic calming or traffic signals for pedestrians to cross the road safely than to by building overhead bridges. As well, private land developer should consider pedestrian’s infrastructures and facilities while carrying out the land development projects.
Kathmandu valley is almost an ideal place to cycle for daily mobility. The government should promote usage of cycle by providing exclusive lanes and address the safety issues of riders. As former mayor of Bogota, Enrique Penalosa says- “A bikeway is a symbol that shows that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally important as a citizen on a $30,000 car.”
With the increasing travel demand, the capacity and density of road networks are increasing, but often at the expense of the vulnerable road users. Hundreds of road users are killed every year in Kathmandu valley and other urban areas in Nepal, most of them being the pedestrians, and many more are injured or disabled. Thus a comprehensive road safety strategy should be established, and prioritized on urban transport goals of city and national governments. The strategy should make specific provisions for vulnerable road user groups such as pedestrians, cyclists, children, disabled and elderly people. The program should be devised to educate and encourage people on safer road user behavior and enforcement of traffic rules and regulations.
Less than 1% of vehicles are zero emission or low emission, and many of the vehicles running in the valley do not comply with national emission standards. Similarly the vehicles more than 20 years old still ply on the valley roads. These old vehicles are the major contributor to growing air pollution in urban areas and increasing road accidents. Many vehicles tends to be poorly maintained and over polluting. The concerned authorities should continuously monitor and inspect vehicles, and enforce to comply emission standards. It is recommended to devise new stricter emission standards for the vehicles and the green sticker regulation be implemented properly. Also there should be clear and time bound policy to revise for more stringent emission standards.
Parliamentary Finance and Labor Relations Committee recently directed the government to remove old public vehicles of more than 20 years, however Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Labor and Transportation has not decided yet pointing to the huge pressure from public transport entrepreneur to compensate and huge waiver in custom duty.
The government should have clear policy on this. The government should learn from their shortsighted policy devised in the late 1990s to replace Bikram tempos by microbuses. Whether they had introduced the higher occupancy vehicles instead family sized vans, the public transport in the valley wouldn’t have been this worst.
The decision to remove the old public vehicles would be admirable only if higher occupancy buses and electric vehicles are introduced in replace.
Clean Fuel and Vehicle Technology
The lower fuel quality and vehicle technology is responsible for the premature death of hundreds of people, huge economic loss and environmental degradation.
Thus there is dire need to improve the fuel quality, usage of cleaner fuel and shift to zero emission or low emission vehicle. The government should stop subsidizing fossil fuels instead would be wiser to invest in development and usage of cleaner fuels and lower emission vehicle technology.
In Nepal, we have high potential of usage of electric vehicles. The government should support and promote the usage of electric vehicles in urban areas by providing incentives measures, and which will eventually help to reduce the nation’s dependency on imported fuels.
The trolleybus should be reintroduced and extend to primary routes, Ring Road and Bishnumati Link Road as recommended by Kathmandu Sustainable Urban Transport project. The trolleybus system with right-of-way lane and integrated with other BRT features would certainly yield more efficient and customer friendly services that would prioritize public transport over private vehicles and have far-reaching environmental benefits.
Nepal should also review and upgrade its vehicle standards. The government introduced Euro 1 vehicle standards in 1999, however, the standards is not upgraded since then. Many Asian countries have already adopted Euro 2 and Euro 3 standard vehicles.
Congestion pricing or road pricing for private vehicles could be instrumental to discourage private vehicles, mainly in urban core areas suffered with increasing traffic congestion and tailpipe smoke. This levy can be used, by establishing urban transport fund, to meet the transport needs and management of urban air quality. Electronic road pricing has been successfully implemented in Singapore and London.
Millions rupees raised from pollution tax is not being utilized, as concerned authority do not have clear policy and framework. The funds should be invested in improving public transportation, promote urban greenery and restore the urban air quality.
Partnership and Financing
The government should also encourage partnerships where private service providers can competitively provide service to the public. However, this should be done with fair balance between the regulations/standards set by government and profit motive of the private sectors. Also policy with risk sharing mechanism between government and transport service providers will provide business assurance for private sectors. It will further ensure affordable, safer and efficient transport system without compromising the quality of service.
It is evident that huge capital investments are required for planning and development of urban transport system. When central or local government do not have required resources, alternative source of finance should be explored. The policy should encourage the participation of private and cooperatives sector in operation and management of transport system, and thereby reducing the dependency on public budgets. Many cities let private sectors to use the spaces for advertisement or commercial purposes to raise additional funds.
Central government and municipal bodies are responsible for planning and implementation of urban transport system. However they lack the ability to fully understand urban transport problem and their capacity to deal with. Thus the policy to support capacity building of both in institutional and individual level is foremost, and central government should provide adequate financial and technical resources to strengthen capabilities of municipal or local government.
One of the major barriers in sustainable urban transport development in Nepal is lack of cooperation and coordination among the government institutions. In many cases, this eventually leads to complete failure of the project. Establishing an institutional mechanism to foster coordination in planning and management of transport system would certainly contribute to better transport planning and development.
Public Awareness and Cooperation
The vision of urban transport policy couldn’t be achieved without full cooperation of city dwellers. So it is fundamental to inform people the objective of SUT and its positive implications especially in their health and wellbeing through broader awareness programs and consultation. As urban transport is a complex issue connected with almost ever sector and every walk of life, it is wise to have consultation with civil societies while formulating policy.
As urban transport is a complex and to meet the growing needs of exploding urban population, it is recommended to devise a comprehensive urban transport policy.