Don’t stay silent about harassment and overcharging in public transportDial 103 to complain. In the past seven months, traffic police have fined 189 vehicle operators for misbehaviour with passengers.
For the past two weeks, Sharada Parajuli has been using public transport to commute between her home in Satungal and work at Ekantakuna.
Parajuli, 27, who bought a scooter during the Covid lockdown two years ago is not able to ride her two-wheeler due to an injury to her right hand she sustained in an accident. But, for her, commuting in public vehicles these days has become a nightmare.
“After my accident, I started using public buses for safer travel,” said Parajuli, who works at a private company. “But the way the conductors talk, the way they cram people inside the bus and the inappropriate touching by some ill-intended male passengers make public transport seriously problematic for women.”
Not only the language they use, their inappropriate behaviour is most concerning, she said. What’s more, public vehicles are too slow to reach their destination on time since they stop at many places to pick up passengers. “I could reach the office in 25 minutes on my scooter, but by bus it takes more than an hour and I am reprimanded by my boss almost every day,” said Parajuli.
She, however, has not complained to the police about the occasional inappropriate touching of female passengers and use of foul language by conductors.
“Everyday, from early in the morning, I start worrying about being late for the office, and also during the evening, it’s often too late to reach home. I didn't feel like complaining to the police,” said Parajuli.
Suman Paudel from Dhital Chowk of Tarakeshwar Municipality faces a similar problem almost every day while commuting from his home to Shahid Gate, Sundhara. Paudel, 42, a father of two children, was standing on the aisle of a bus operated by Tarkeshwar Yatayat Pvt Ltd about two weeks ago. The conductor of the bus asked him to move up to make room for more passengers.
“I got angry because the bus was already packed with passengers, but it didn’t move for a long time,” said Paudel, who works at a corporate office in Sundhara. “I said, there is no space so I won’t move. Then the conductor scolded me with rough words and asked me to get off the bus.”
He was forced to get off the bus, but other passengers did not complain about it.
The hassles and misbehaviour being faced by Parajuli and Paudel are just a couple of examples of the plight of public transport commuters in Kathmandu. It is estimated that more than 80,000 people use public vehicles in the Valley every day.
Every election, leaders and candidates promise to make improvements in public transport, but the situation remains unchanged.
Paudel, who felt really bad about the harassment he was subjected to, lodged a complaint at the Nepaltar-based Traffic Police Division Office, and also called traffic hotline 103 and shared his plight. The police acted on his complaint promptly. In the evening the same day, the Traffic Police Division detained the bus for four hours and slapped the driver with a Rs1,500 fine.
“We took swift action against the bus driver after receiving a complaint from Paudel, but the problem is that very few people take the trouble of complaining,” said a constable at the division office requesting anonymity because was not officially allowed to speak to the press.
Kathmandu Valley Traffic Police Office spokesperson Rajendra Prasad Bhatta claimed that his office, in the past one year, has been more active in punishing those involved in harassment and misbehaviour in public transport.
“If there are complaints of the conductor or the driver roughing up or beating up passengers or sexual harassment, we hand such cases to the Nepal Police for further action, but we take our own action in cases involving overcharging of passengers, or misbehaviour by bus crew,” said Bhatta.
Police data show in the past seven months, 189 public vehicle staff have been booked for misbehaving with passengers. Meanwhile, the police booked 28 conductors and drivers for beating up passengers and another 14 for overcharging.
Traffic police officials said that after Deputy Inspector General Mira Chaudhari became their chief in July last year, she has been more active in addressing the complaints of public transport passengers. Chaudhari says her office does not tolerate passenger harassment.
“We will do all to make sure the guilty are punished, but members of the public rarely file complaints,” said Bhatta. “If you face misbehaviour from a conductor or driver, you should immediately call the police on 103 or inform the nearby traffic police. The perpetrator will surely be booked.”