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Thimphuโ€™s Priority Lane Project, A Tale of Two Perspectives

โ€ฆ๐’˜๐’‰๐’Š๐’๐’† ๐’„๐’Š๐’•๐’š ๐’ƒ๐’–๐’” ๐’„๐’๐’Ž๐’Ž๐’–๐’•๐’†๐’“๐’” ๐’„๐’†๐’๐’†๐’ƒ๐’“๐’‚๐’•๐’† ๐’’๐’–๐’Š๐’„๐’Œ๐’†๐’“ ๐’•๐’“๐’‚๐’—๐’†๐’, ๐’•๐’‚๐’™๐’Š ๐’…๐’“๐’Š๐’—๐’†๐’“๐’” ๐’‡๐’‚๐’„๐’† ๐’๐’†๐’˜ ๐’„๐’‰๐’‚๐’๐’๐’†๐’๐’ˆ๐’†๐’”

Krishna Kumar Sanyasi

In a recent collaboration between Thimphu Thromde, the City Bus Service, Thimphu Traffic Division (Royal Bhutan Police), and the Bhutan Construction and Transport Authority (BCTA), a pilot Bus Priority Lane project was launched, which became operational last week. This initiative has evoked a range of reactions, particularly among taxi drivers in Thimphu.

During specific hours- 7 to 10 in the morning and 3:30 to 6:30 in the evening-the priority lane is reserved for ambulances, fire engines, emergency vehicles, police escorts, buses, VVIP cars, foreign diplomats, flagged cars, and vehicles transporting critically ill patients requiring emergency medical attention. The implementation of the priority lane is being carried out in three phases: from Babesa to the flyover bridge (Phase 1), from the flyover to the telecom junction (Phase 2), and from the telecom junction to Dechencholing (Phase 3). Despite currently being implemented in phase one only, the initiative has stirred mixed emotions among taxi drivers.

Many taxi drivers have expressed concerns about being unaware of the new regulations. According to Thinley Gyeltshen, a taxi driver who primarily operates between Babesa and the main town, “the lack of clear and consistent direction has led to confusion among both drivers and traffic officials. This confusion, coupled with the resulting traffic jams during peak hours, has significantly impacted our business and increased the risk of accidents.”

Gyem Tshering, another taxi driver, recognizes the potential long-term advantages of the initiative but points out the immediate difficulties it presents. He proposed, “Permitting taxis to pick up and drop off passengers from the opposite lane would be a more feasible solution. Since that lane is designated as a priority lane, we can’t even enter it to collect passengers. Frequently, people in the priority lane request a ride, and if we cross over to pick them up, we face accusations. Passengers, too, are inconvenienced as they must traverse from the priority lane to the next lane to access taxis. Due to these existing limitations, I have stopped driving in Babesa during rush hours.”

Phub Dema, a newcomer to the taxi profession, has also encountered challenges due to the priority lane, notably experiencing significant time lost in traffic jams and struggling to retain passengers amidst the sluggish traffic flow. She recounted, “There was an incident where one of my passengers chose to exit the vehicle, lacking the patience to wait in the prolonged traffic. My concern grows thinking about the situation when schools reopen, as there will be an increase in vehicles on the roads, with parents driving their children to school.”

Singye, another taxi driver, says, “I personally feel that we made a mistake 20 years ago while planning our town, and right now they are realizing it. The initiative of a priority lane is a good move, but only if we have more than two lanes. Since we only have two, only city buses and VIP vehicles are given priority, as if we are not providing public service.”
Conversely, passengers utilizing the city bus have reported positive experiences. Ashika Rai, a regular city bus commuter, said, “Since the implementation of the priority lane, travel times have decreased, resulting in a smoother and faster journey.”

Tandin Wangchuk, a daily commuter on the city bus from Babesa to town, remarked that in the past, it used to take around 25 to 30 minutes to reach Changzamtog, whereas now the journey can be completed within 20 minutes. Personally, I find it more convenient to travel by city bus now. I appreciate the public service and the introduction of priority lanes, which have encouraged more people to use public transport. However, I notice that it has become increasingly difficult to find a seat due to the higher number of passengers. I am happy to see the growing use of public transport.

However, the initiative has faced opposition from some quarters, particularly taxi drivers. The Bhutan Taxi Association states, “Despite our support for their initiatives, we have received numerous complaints from taxi drivers about the new bus priority lane. Taxi drivers are unhappy because it’s affecting their earnings and increasing the risk of accidents. They’re also worried that traffic will get worse when schools reopen.”

Sonam Thinley, an office-goer, remarked, “This initiative requires additional lanes. Previously, there were two lanes: one for slow driving and the other for normal speed. Now, they share the same lane, significantly slowing down traffic in that single lane. The other lane, designated as a special lane, remains empty. While the initiative seems promising, it has been implemented with limited infrastructure, rendering the existing infrastructure redundant.”

“Due to this initiative, I consistently arrive late to the office from home, and I don’t believe it’s an efficient solution from the Thromde,” he added.

In light of recent criticisms, the City Bus Service office has offered a robust defense of its recent initiative. Citing a comprehensive study, the office has underscored the potential for substantial increases in travel times by the year 2040 should no intervention be implemented. Emphasizing the urgency of immediate action to avert future traffic challenges, the office has highlighted the myriad advantages associated with reduced congestion, lower emissions, and decreased reliance on imported fuel and vehicle spare parts.

Furthermore, the Director of the City Bus Service office has articulated that the initiative is designed to promote car-pooling and the utilization of public transportation, with the overarching goal of mitigating traffic congestion and vehicular emissions. The initiative has also sparked debate among netizens, with some expressing skepticism about its timing and potential impact on traffic. Despite differing opinions, the initiative stands as a significant step towards addressing traffic congestion and promoting sustainable transportation options in Thimphu.

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