A colleague of mine once told me that professionals who were responsible for designing public transport policies never used public transport themselves. This thought has been entrenched in my mind ever since. As a transport professional myself, I always try to use public transport whichever part of the world I visit, be it London, Delhi, Accra, Helsinki, or Colombo. It is one of the best ways to get a sense of how the public transport system operates in a particular city.
I joined the World Bank Nepal office some three years ago. I booked my temporary residence in a hotel through one of my friends. I had no idea how far the hotel was from my office so I took a taxi on my first day. Then I discovered that my hotel was close to a public transport route so I started using microbuses to commute to the office. On my way to work the microbus would never be full, so I could travel comfortably. But I hated my return journey as the microbuses would already be filled up at Shahid Gate and I would never get seats. Often I had to change buses and sometimes, if I stayed at work late, I had to take taxis as there were no buses after dark.
A lot of my Nepali colleagues also shared their experiences with me. A male colleague told me how he was mugged once. I also heard many unpleasant stories from my female colleagues on the experience of using public transport. I have to admit after this, I used public transport less frequently.
You might be wondering how buses and social accountability are related. In Baglung, western region of Nepal, they are not just related - one is the direct result of the other.
Nepal, with its diverse topography has amazing landscapes for tourism but when it comes to accessible roads, it is one of the rural community’s biggest concerns. In the hilly or mountainous regions, the problem is severe; the same can be said about the remote regions of Baglung where people were not getting any bus service from the centre to the upper faraway villages (up to Kalimati). As their only other option, they had jeeps (people carrier) as substitutes for public transportation.
“Now, it’s become easier for us to go to the villages as the bus is cheaper – it’s less than half the price of what we pay for jeeps. The jeeps cost us NRs. 150 to 200 (US$ 1.75 to $2.35) while the bus is just NRs. 40 (US$ 0.50). I am happy that the bus is in operation now but what is more exciting is - the bus service started as the direct result of the public hearing we had with the municipality last year,” says Pingal Khadka GC, one of the PETS members set up by Deep Jyoti Youth Club in the municipality.
Under the Program for Accountability in Nepal (PRAN), Deepjyoti Youth Club (DYC) organised one of the most effective tools of Social Accountability: a public hearing in a remote village of Baglung. The turnover of more than 2,500 people from local communities not just made an arresting sight but yielded results in less than two weeks. During the summer last year, the citizens had the opportunity to ask questions to the municipal officers and one of the concerns was the bus service. The people were promised the service to start as soon as possible and it did. The commitment of the Local Development Officer (LDO) in front of the entire community made the bus service a reality.
What does one generally looks for while travelling? Quick, hassle free, safe and convenient mode of transportation! To get people to shift from private to public transport, the usability and access to public transport should be such that people choose it over their own vehicles.
This is however a classic chicken and egg problem because until the public sees an improvement in public transport they are not going to use it, and till the government sees people using it, it will not invest in public transport. In this case, the government will have to take the first bold steps and invest in the infrastructure of public transportation systems.
Points to be considered: