The scooter diariesComplaints about problems on the streets of Kathmandu are unending. Pedestrians complain about the dust and rash drivers; cycle and motorcycle riders gripe about traffic jams, pollution and speeding cars; and motorists criticise traffic jams and rash bike riders.
Complaints about problems on the streets of Kathmandu are unending. Pedestrians complain about the dust and rash drivers; cycle and motorcycle riders gripe about traffic jams, pollution and speeding cars; and motorists criticise traffic jams and rash bike riders. The people who are suffering the most, I believe, are the traffic police officers who have to deal with rowdy drivers, suffocating air pollution and unnecessary honking every day. There isn’t a single day when I don’t feel bad about the state of Kathmandu’s roads and its consequences on the health of the traffic police officers.
Unfortunately, it is just limited to sympathising as I shamelessly belong to the hordes who are not too keen on switching to bicycles (due to the danger of being run over by bully trucks) or public transportation (crowded and rash). Therefore, as I attempt to assuage my guilt a bit, please bear with my observations from riding my scooter in Kathmandu. There are lanes painted on the roads of Kathmandu, but how visible are they to users? Of course, most of them need repainting, but even when they are freshly painted, how often do drivers and pedestrians keep to them? The answer is hardly.
Recently, my driver’s licence was seized by a traffic policeman at Thapathali for crossing lanes. Interestingly, I had been using the road in the same way for the past seven years, and I was righteously shocked and angry at being ‘caught’ doing the same. Everyone knows what follows the confiscation of a licence; it’s part of urban folklore. I paid a Rs500 fine at Global IME Bank which was embarrassing, as I was guilty of being an uncivilised citizen, and attended the mandatory traffic safety class. In hindsight, the whole incident, especially the safety class, was enlightening; I’ve made my peace with the incident. No illegal lane jumping for this repentant driver!
Along with accidents, illegal lane crossings also end up wasting time and energy and causing traffic jams. In a rush to reach their destinations, bikers end up blocking the road by waiting for vehicles coming from the opposite direction to make way for them. As a majority of bikes breach lane rules, they force other two-wheelers to follow them, thereby increasing the chaos. Often, such situations are deliberate and happen in the absence of traffic police officers. The only respite we have at such places are the ‘volunteers’: taxi drivers and helpers on pick-ups and trucks who try their best to get the traffic moving again despite being yelled at by the riders and motorists to let them go first.
These are the kinds of attitudes I encounter on the roads of Kathmandu, and I sometimes end up acting the same way out of frustration. Rash driving, disobeying traffic rules in the absence of traffic police officers, exhibiting rude behaviour and using foul language demonstrate our deteriorating civic sense which makes me wonder if we can really call ourselves civilised citizens.
After Kathmandu was declared a horn-free zone, I was pleasantly surprised that drivers and riders followed the rule to a great extent. The posters and signage at various parts of Kathmandu proved to have an effective impact by reminding people to honk only in emergency situations. This step has made driving a pleasant experience in comparison to the times when people honked unreasonably when stuck in traffic jams or to pressurise bikes and cycles to move faster and clear the way. However, for some drivers, the ban on the use of horns is applicable only in the presence of traffic police officers; at other places, honking to annoy and harass pedestrians and fellow riders still persists, unfortunately.
Failure to understand the need to follow two of these basic rules of driving reflects the careless attitude of drivers in Kathmandu. Despite the strict laws regarding the legal age for driving, road users (including myself) seem to be illiterate about basic civic sense. What we can do to improve the everyday experience of road users and traffic police officers is make individual efforts to practice patience and courtesy with each other.
- Tamrakar is a coordinator at the Himalayan Consensus Summit, Nepal Economic Forum