Shut them downPublic transport syndicates have been blamed for the unnerving rise in bus accidents
The transport syndicate is one of the most outrageous systems in Nepal. The group secures bus routes, lobbies for higher fares and anti-competitive patterns and keeps out new entrants. Overcrowded buses, long waits and high fares are the vivid consequences of a deeply-rooted syndicate which has kept the country’s public transportation in a firm grip. Half a decade ago, the Supreme Court ordered the government to shut down the syndicate system. Subsequently, the government banned syndicates and cartels. The Competition Promotion and Market Protection Act 2006 also disallowed syndicates, route monopolies and unfair practices in all forms. However, the ban has not been fully implemented.
Travellers have a right to choose to travel comfortably. By forcefully preventing the addition of new public vehicles with better facilities for the same fare, the syndicates are violating not only the law but also depriving travellers of the services of their desire. Why are these practices happening openly even when they are illegal? Well, political party associates and affiliates control most syndicates. Even though there is no solid evidence, it is beyond doubt that these syndicates are also one of the funding machines of the political parties and influential leaders.
Cause and effect
The Department of Transport Management under the Ministry of Physical Structure and Transport Management is the first and foremost authority to regulate the system of the vehicular movement, route permit and healthy competition. The Motor Vehicle and Transport Management Act is likely to govern the transport sector in Nepal. It calls for the formation of a Transport Management Committee (TMC) consisting of the chief district officer (CDO), one representative each from transport entrepreneurs and the transport labour union, chief of the District Police Office and chief of Transport Management Office. The TMC is authorised to cancel route permits and allow new vehicles to ply the routes, but since different routes are owned by the respective syndicates, issuing a new route permit requires the approval of the syndicate that owns that specific area. If a bus or truck operates on that route without its blessing, it is often vandalised.
According to the latest report of the Metro Traffic Division, around 90 percent of transport accidents are caused by syndicates. The number of vehicles plying long routes are reported to be insufficient, and this has helped to promote syndicates on every route. Old vehicles, monopoly of transport entrepreneurs, lack of awareness among travellers, immature drivers and carelessness, lack of technical knowledge, cheap and ad hoc maintenance and poorly maintained roads have been cited as the reasons for the increasing number of road accidents.
The practice of operating new vehicles in the cities and dispatching old vehicles to the hills is also risky. Inadequate manpower with the Traffic Police to keep a close watch on the roads is making them unsafe and insecure. More than one-third of the roads in Nepal are assumed to have been constructed without any proper engineering plan. Out of the total 50,134 km of roads in the country, only 3,304 km are black-topped. The rest of the roads are gravel or dirt which is quite dangerous in the rainy season. According to the Traffic Police Division, 2,600 people were killed in road accidents in the last fiscal year 2015-16. There are approximately 40 transport accidents daily in which at least five people lose their lives. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in 2014 that around 4 percent of the total deaths in Nepal were from road accidents. These figures reveal the nightmare condition of overland transportation in Nepal. The country’s topography is also a great challenge in transport management.
Safer roads In order to ensure a safe, comfortable and timely journey on public vehicles, there should be free competition in the public transport industry. The government and its agencies need to encourage competition in the transport sector immediately. First, the restriction on issuing new route permits should be removed and their management should be done as per the Transport Management Act. No political bargaining or monopoly of local entrepreneurs should be allowed in the introduction of new and comfortable vehicles on long and hilly routes. Conflicts between representatives of transport entrepreneurs and labour associations should also be addressed. The police need to take immediate action against overcrowded and overloaded vehicles.
The long-term vision should be to make the transport system safe, affordable, organised, non-polluting and service-oriented by introducing new public vehicles. The transport system needs to be cheap, safe, non-polluting, equipped with facilities, competitive and self-dependent. The implementation of the third-party insurance provision should be made effective. Partnership and cooperation with the private sector have to be strengthened by establishing an autonomous National Transport Board. Public-private partnership in transport management will actually be effective.
Modern technology can be used to check driving licences, number plates and vehicular emission. The capacity of the concerned agencies and human resources need to be enhanced. By computerising the vehicle database, prompt and reliable service can be provided. Public awareness programmes about road accidents are highly recommended. An on-the-spot monitoring system for vehicular inspection should be established. Let’s not delay deregulating the transport industry in terms of entrepreneurs being able to choose their routes. Our roads and highways must be free from all sorts of syndicates.
Regmi is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation