What's holding up the buses?The procurement process should be sped up, not stopped.
When the government announced its electric mobility action plan in October 2018, it showed Nepalis a bright future where they could finally live in an air pollution-free environment. After all, the plan called for activities to halve fossil fuel consumption by 2050, to significantly improve air quality by 2025 and to run an electric railway network by 2040. Along the way to achieving this and ensuring Nepal’s share of electric vehicles reaches 20 percent by 2020, the plan was to introduce electric buses in the Kathmandu Valley. Run by Sajha Yatayat with 300 electric buses initially, the government hoped the scheme would encourage other local governments in urban areas around Nepal to support green public transportation initiatives.
The government had provided Sajha with Rs3 billion to procure the buses on July 18, two days into the new fiscal year. This showed the people that the government was finally serious about getting some work done. However, more than three months later, there has been no progress on the procurement front. Now, the government has asked Sajha Yatayat to halt the procurement process altogether. While the government is right to question Sajha about the procurement delays, halting the process completely will not make the buses come any sooner. Any more holdups will only show how the government is all talk and not really interested in implementation.
Using electric buses is a great way to promote cleaner air in the country. Nepal has seen massive growth in vehicular usage since 1990. With many preferring to purchase private vehicles, mostly two-wheelers that make up 80 percent of all vehicles, public transportation has seen a decline in proportion. Buses made up 11 percent of all vehicles in 1990; this fell to 3 percent in 2015. But even then, there are more than 46,000 buses in the country—a quarter of them in and around the Kathmandu Valley. Diesel buses are known to emit more than 41 kg of particulate matter each per year. This makes them a major contributor to air pollution. In the meantime, China has already shown the world how switching to electric buses greatly reduces fuel consumption, maintenance costs, mileage costs and air pollution. Moreover, a focus on promoting public transportation could go a long way in reducing Nepal’s import bill, with both vehicles and fossil fuel making significant contributions, and managing traffic in urban areas.
In light of this, the government must allow Sajha to go ahead with its procurement process without delay. Its calling for a complete halt to the purchase is counterproductive. It would be a strong showing of intent if the government-supported cooperative company could run a fleet of electric buses. This does not mean that Sajha should not be questioned over the delays. Sajha CEO Bhushan Tuladhar mentioned how the formation of a multi-stakeholder committee and the preparation of bidding documents took two months. This sounds like a flimsy excuse, one that should be looked over to see whether it is valid. However, it is also true that Nepal’s procurement process is not easy to follow, and Sajha may have been extra careful to avoid scrutiny later. No matter the case, the priority going further should be procuring the buses as soon as possible, and implementing other aspects of the electric mobility action plan.
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