Majority of public vehicles in the Valley are not following health and safety rulesPublic health experts have warned of the coronavirus risk if public vehicles do not follow the guidelines set by the government.
The number of public vehicles on the roads of Kathmandu Valley has increased after the government lifted the nationwide coronavirus lockdown after nearly four months on Tuesday.
However, most of these vehicles have not been following the health and safety guidelines issued by the government, raising the risk of coronavirus spread, as cautioned by public health experts.
A Cabinet meeting had made it mandatory for public vehicles to limit the passenger numbers to half their seating capacity, keep hand sanitisers where passengers could easily access them and mask and glove rules for drivers, among others.
But when the Post visited various bus stations in Sahid Gate, Sundhara, Koteshwor, Kalanki and New Bus Park on Wednesday evening, it was evident that most of the public vehicles were not following the health and safety rules.
The most important safety measures of limiting passenger numbers and mandatory mask rules were not being followed.
The number of coronavirus infection cases in Kathmandu Valley has been increasing by the day.
On Thursday alone Kathmandu Valley reported nine new cases of coronavirus infection. The Valley has so far witnessed a total of 383 cases— 255 in Kathmandu, 80 in Lalitpur and 48 in Bhaktapur.
People who commute on public vehicles are also worried about vehicles not following the health and safety guidelines.
“None of the buses I have travelled so far since the lockdown relaxation has followed the rule of social distancing,” said Sahara Parajuli, 31, from Satungal, who works for a travel agency in New Road. “Since there are not many public vehicles on my route, I have no choice but to take any bus or van that comes along the way, even if it is crowded.”
Meanwhile, the traffic authority seems to be doing little to enforce the health and safety rules on public vehicles.
“We cannot monitor every vehicle on the road. Ever since the lockdown was lifted, we are having difficulty controlling the traffic, particularly during the rush hours, and we cannot check every vehicle to make sure that the health and safety rules are being followed,” a traffic constable in Kalanki area told the Post on condition of anonymity.
He said public vehicles plying the Thankot, Stungal and Nagdhunga from Kalanki routes in the evening have been found breaching the rules, but the traffic police cannot book every one of them.
The Kalanki traffic police office had stopped 20 buses on Wednesday and 10 on Thursday for breaching the health and safety rules.
“Neither the passengers nor the bus operators seem to be following the rules. The passengers want to get to their work or home in time while the bus operators want to earn money,” said the constable.
Dipesh GC, a bus driver, said if public transport operators were to limit the passenger numbers to half the seating capacity, the money they earn will only be enough to refuel the vehicles.
“In normal times, we used to earn at least Rs 7,000 from five trips between Balkot and Kalanki. Now we hardly earn Rs 2,000,” said GC.
Considering the profit loss of public transport operators due to the passenger limitation rule, the government has allowed them to charge a 50 percent surcharge on normal fare. GC, however, said they still cannot reach break even because they were not getting enough passengers during the day.
SP Bam Dev Gautam, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, public vehicle operators make any excuse for endangering the public health.
“We will step up our monitoring from Friday and book those vehicles carrying passengers beyond the set limit,” said Gautam.
The division has set up a special team of 30 traffic officers to monitor and enforce health and safety rules in public vehicles.
“In the past two days, we have booked 72 public vehicles for flouting the rules. On Thursday alone, the team booked 16 buses, 14 micro buses and one tempo were booked for breaching the rules,” said Gautam.