Express buses in Kathmandu: A good idea gone bad

-Sudeekshya Dwa

Ms. Dwa ​​is a research intern at Samriddhi Foundation, an economic policy think tank based in Kathmandu. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the organization. Author can be reached at Sudeekshya Dwa [email protected].

If you can drive well in Kathmandu, you can drive anywhere in the world. This phrase has been tossed around amongst the people living in the valley in the context of the ill-managed roadways and the difficulties faced in driving on them. Both public and private transportation users face difficulties traveling in the streets of Kathmandu. Adding to the numerous traffic jams and trouble faced by commuters, the express bus service was introduced on September 20, 2023, on the Suryabinayak-Ratnapark route with the intention of decreasing the commute time for public bus users from 90 minutes to 45. Designated lanes had been painted red by the Department of Transportation for the express buses which would run from 9-11 AM and 4-6 PM daily catering to the office hour rush. However, according to recent news, the express bus service is on the verge of closing down.

At first glance, the express buses seemed revolutionary and a solution for commuters wary of using public transport due to the excessive time taken and numerous stops they make. The main motive of the express bus introduction was to enable fast and efficient travel, decreasing the time taken to travel the route by 50%. However, on top of both express buses and normal public buses taking the same time to travel the route, the other vehicles traveling on the route have also been affected by the express buses and observed delays. After spending Rs. 10 million by the Department of Roads to paint the designated lanes, the express buses are expected to halt within a month of its inauguration. This is a clear waste of the taxpayer’s hard-earned money. The painting of existing lanes without proper infrastructure creation has only created bottlenecks. The government seems to be only focusing on short-term visions as it announced such a service without the provision of proper bus stops and the addition of separate lanes.

Since the express bus service was inaugurated in a hurry without the proper infrastructure, the bus service has been facing difficulties every step of the way. The business people owning the express buses have stopped plying the bus due to the hassle, not being able to drive in the dedicated lane, and traffic not being facilitated. They have requested the Department of Transportation Management that they will resume the service only if the infrastructure and traffic management are improved. Had the proper provisions for the smooth running of the express buses been made prior to their inauguration, such problems would have been minimized. Transport expert Ashish Gajurel stated, “Before beginning, a scientific investigation is required. Afterwards, preparations must be made. Only then will the service be fruitful. Better bus stops, a card system for tickets, and lane separation should be implemented. There is no distinct lane in intersections which should be present.”

The express bus service in Kathmandu is a classic example of a good idea gone bad. The concept of express lanes is not new, and it has been implemented successfully in cities all over the globe. However, its effectiveness hinges on careful planning and execution. In the case of Kathmandu, the government hurried to inaugurate the service without putting in place the necessary infrastructure or traffic management system. Consequently, the express buses have been unable to live up to their promise, and the service is on the verge of being shut down.