Public buses get fast lane on Ratnapark-Suryabinayak roadPublic transport operators welcome the move, advise government to enforce dedicated lane rule effectively.
It's a well-known fact that traffic jams are a perennial problem in Kathmandu Valley. What makes them worse for commuters is public vehicles stopping for passengers every now and then.
These are among the reasons why people who can afford it try to avoid using public vehicles and prefer private ones.
In a bid to promote public transport by making the means fast, the government has started an ‘express bus’ service from Ratnapark to Suryabinayak in Bhaktapur.
Under the service, 25 regular buses (local vehicles on the route) with over 40 seats will be plying a separate red lane in the peak hours from 9am to 11am, and 4pm to 6pm.
“The drive aims to assure people that public vehicles are reliable and can reach the destination on time,” Prakash Jwala, minister for physical infrastructure and transport, said while launching the service on Wednesday in Kathmandu.
He said once the system is managed, the commute time can be reduced to 30 minutes. The pilot project covers 13.5 kilometres. According to traffic police, at normal times, it would take a bus nearly two hours to travel the route, but after the express bus service starts, passengers can reach Ratnapark from Suryabinayak in 45 minutes. There will not be any change in the bus fare.
On the inaugural day, which marked the eighth constitution day, Infrastructure Minister Jwala, Transport Minister of Bagmati Province Laxman Lamsal, Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City Balendra Shah, and mayors of Madhyapur Thimi and Suryabinayak Municipality rode the express bus from Ratnapark to Suryabinayak.
“We have no alternative but to promote public vehicles in the Valley,” said Uddhav Prasad Rijal, director general at the Department of Transport Management.
“It’s a pilot project, and we are committed to setting a good mark,” he said.
The Department of Roads painted red patches every 200 metres on road sections at a cost of over Rs10 million. The buses will stop at 19 stations—Ratnapark, Maitighar, Babarmahal, New Baneshwar, Tinkune, Koteshwar, Jadibuti, Kaushaltar, Gatthaghar, Chardobato and Suryabinayak, among others.
Public buses will officially ply the dedicated lanes only from Thursday. Ambulances, police vans, fire brigades and other emergency vehicles will also use the dedicated lane.
“No private vehicles other than emergency carriers will be allowed to ply the routes meant for express buses, which will be operated in a pick and drop method,” said Rajendra Prasad Bhatta, spokesperson for the Kathmandu Valley Traffic Police Office.
Around 90 traffic personnel will be deployed between the road sections, and those breaching the new rule will be fined for lane violations. If the pilot is successful, officials plan to expand the service to other routes such as Ratnapark-Thankot and Budhanilkantha-Kirtipur.
According to traffic police data, the number of vehicles that ply the Valley roads currently is 1.75 million.
Traffic data shows that by 2016, there were already so many automobiles that if all of them were arranged in a single file bumper to bumper, the line would be longer than the total length of the roads in Kathmandu Valley by one and a half times.
The breaching of traffic rules is rife in the Valley, with lane violations the most repeated, according to traffic police. Many are sceptical about the new rule’s implementation because authorities often announce such ideas but fail to implement them.
In April 2019, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City announced the operation of night buses, but the service did not last long. Also, in August 2012, municipal officials had signed an agreement with transport operators to run night bus service from 8pm to 11pm. It had also provided Rs4.5 million to bus operators, but the plan failed.
That year, the Lalitpur Metropolitan City inaugurated its first cycle lane, painted dedicated road lanes, but the lane rule has not been enforced.
The Federation of Transport Entrepreneurs has welcomed the express bus service and cautioned the government to focus on its implementation.
Saroj Sitaula, senior vice-chairperson of the Federation of Transport Entrepreneurs’ Associations, said: “People are fed up with the whole transport system in the Valley. If implemented well, this will restore people’s trust in public vehicles,” said Sitaula.