Unsolicited words of wisdom

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Urban commuters, here, pile into public transport as did the Americans hurrying out of Saigon in 1970. Is it this nature that has emboldened private bus operators to squeeze the most out of non-complaining commuters? But the reality is contrastingly different. The conniving operators first ensure that no other competitor is allowed in their fiefdom. Secondly, by operating less number of buses they ensure that the commuter volume is maintained at a high level at all times. Thirdly, this allows them to defer investment in new hardware by operating dilapidated buses for as long as possible. Naturally, such environment benefits everyone involved in the business except the commuters.

Commuters, having reached the destination, are in more hurry to get out and asking for the trip ticket then serves no purpose. The system is so benignly rigged that amount from the ticket sale always ends being less than the amount actually collected. The excess amount will naturally go into the pockets of the two in the bus or even to others within the establishment. The bus-owners rather than acting strictly resort to over packing instead. While there is a huge demand for public transport in this expensive khaldo, effort by the authorities have often been both too late and also equally inadequate.

At the policy level, it has been more like a pendulum, swinging between small to big vehicles. The government have had no hand in running city transport services except for the trolleybus linking Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. It was shameful that a system that was meticulously built and handed over was decimated in less than three decades.

Kathmandu never had a formal public transport system like cities elsewhere. People relied on their good two feet commuting long distances. Thimiles walked all the way with vegetable-laden kharpans on their shoulder, as did the Kirtipure masons and carpenters. So did all the jagires living around the kaaths. Unlike today, where getting into the school bus is intrinsically linked with enrolment, kids then walked to Durbar High School from far and wide. Walking was a way of life and this got inculcated in the minds right from the very beginning.

Having begun only in early 60s the “Nepal Transport Service” buses that plied between Ranipokhari and Patan Dhoka/Lagankhel marked the beginning of private venture. Entry of Sajha Yatayat, a cooperative, saw a marked improvement in the services and reach. It is good that Sajha was resurrected from the ashes to continue with its mission. But the overall public transport scenario continues to remain patchy and disjointed as these are left to the whims and mercy of private operators.

With assorted vehicles choking the roads, everyone is in a hurry. Drivers on four wheels curse the unruly cowboys and girls on two-wheelers for whom driving by the rule is something they cannot bear with. They might as well go without helmets, if they were not cowards. Two-wheeler wallahs, in general, are so damn irresponsible and impatient that they have no qualms squeezing past a car, in a tightest corner possible, without as much as a glance. Presumably, if educated and civilized can be so damn callous what can we expect from rookie drivers hitting the road? It is no wonder that microbuses and tempos contribute, in their own ways, by stopping anywhere of their choosing, unconcerned of vehicles behind.

On most streets, allegedly “green” safa-tempos move at their own slow pace without giving space for others to move over. Elsewhere, with hands/feet poised over accelerator, those stopped by the traffic will literally have steam blowing out of their ears, as the pedestrian chain keeps getting across pavement lazily! An equally determined pedestrian will gesture the speeding vehicle to slow or stop as s/he was going across anyway as does a vehicle with blinking high beam. It becomes a question of who blinks first.

Few donor-installed traffic lights which were pedestrian-friendly do not seem to be in working order any more. Traffic management here are geared exclusively toward managing vehicles than pedestrians. The conflict is bound to emerge while one gets preference over the other and this becomes more apparent at places of shared usage.   

People wishing for instant solutions should understand that the facilities and rules are made for common good and therefore, need to be used in the manner prescribed first. Any inadequacies or deficiencies there in, can be a case for improvement later. There will be no instant solution. The problem is more encompassing than related to urban transport alone.

I would just like to end with an unsolicited words of wisdom from a taxi driver, as I waited patiently for my turn to get out a junction jam, pulling by my side he said “parkhera hudaaina hazur, yaha ta pelnu parcha”! That is the precise attitude, all around us, that we have to get over with if we want to make some improvement at individual level.

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