Daily vehicular traffic in Nepal’s metropolises, most notably in Kathmandu Valley, has been on significant rise over the past decade. Increasing inward migration, growing number of vehicles (both 2-wheelers and 4-wheelers), violation of traffic rules and regulations, and limited and narrower roads in the valley’s major areas are some of the key factors responsible for worsening traffic management. As a result, Kathmandu denizens waste hours waiting in woe traffic congestions almost on a daily basis. In addition, vehicular pollution: air and noise, has been harshly affecting citizen health.
Historical Trends of Vehicle Ownership in Nepal
According to available sources, then Rana rulers brought the first car to Nepal about a century ago. As there were no roads, human beings carried the car into Kathmandu via Bhimphedi – Chitlang route. That marked the beginning of a formal car era in Nepal. However, initially limited for use by Rana families and their close allies alone, the general public could own a car only much later. As per recent data released by the Department of Transportation Management (DoTM), as of FY 2073/74 BS, there are 2,783,428 vehicles registered with the department. Of these, almost half of the vehicles – 1,042,856 – are registered in Bagmati zone alone. Of the total registered vehicles, motorcycles and car/jeep/van alone comprise 78% and 13% respectively in the region. Similarly, Narayani (625,089 vehicles), Lumbini (335, 366 vehicles) and Gandaki (137,575) are the three other most crowded zones in terms of the number of vehicles registered. Despite these observable differences in vehicular traffic across zones, the annual increase in number of registered vehicles in each zone has been remarkable. In Karnali, the local DoTM office registered only 111 vehicles when the formal registration begun there in FY 2072/73 BS. During the following fiscal year, net growth in the number of registered vehicles in the zone increased by almost 284% (426 new vehicles).Similarly, in FY 2073/74 BS, three zones – Bheri, Gandaki and Janakpur – witnessed entry of almost 50% new vehicles as compared to the last fiscal year. The top four zones that registered the highest number of vehicles in FY 2073/74 BS include Bagmati (119,956), Narayani (99,147), Lumbini (80,520) and Koshi (52,371).
Nepal’s Road Conditions
In terms of availability of roads, Nepal seriously lags behind, most notably in major metropolises. According to a 2017 transportation profile published by Investment Board Nepal, the country currently has a total road network of 80,078 km – roads constructed and being maintained by the Department of Roads (26,935 km) and those by government local bodies (53,143 km). However, only about 19% of the total available roads in Nepal are blacktopped and the rest are either graveled or earthen roads. Furthermore, only 67 district headquarters are currently connected to all-weather roads. In addition, a majority of roads in the country’s metropolises are not of minimal quality. For example, Kathmandu Valley’s road network is about 1,500 km long however, only about 33% of these roads are capable of handling two-way vehicular traffic.
Human and Environmental Impacts of Nepal’s Poor Transportation System
Often termed as the ‘Highways of Death’, Nepal’s major road networks are prone to major accidents and human casualties each year. As per a 2016 report from the Nepal Police, during FY 2073/74 alone, Nepal witnessed an average of 27 accidents and five deaths every day in road accidents. Within metropolises, effects of limited roads accompanied by higher number of vehicles go beyond accidents and human casualties and result in other environmental and psychological hazards. Kathmandu was ranked 5th in Serbia-based research website Numbeo.com’s 2017 Pollution Index. As per the 2016 version of World Health Organisation ambient air quality database, 36 out of every 100,000 lost their lives to air pollution-related illnesses including heart diseases, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and stroke. Similarly, Yale University’s Environment Performance Index 2016 included Nepal in the list of top four worst performers in terms of safeguarding people’s health and also saving environment caused from air pollution. Locally, Ministry of Urban Development’s 2017 report on ‘Inclusive Cities: Resilient Communities’ has also identified air pollution as one of the biggest threats to local dwellers’ health in the country’s urban areas, mainly in cities like Kathmandu.
Looking at successful examples from most crowded cities around the world, Nepal too can transfer some ideas from those cities and localise every idea to fit into the country’s major municipalities to better monitor and manage vehicular traffic within and across those areas. Some of the notable examples include electronic road pricing in Dubai, London, Milan, Singapore, Stockholm and Toronto; dynamic traffic forecasting initiative in Barcelona, Lyon, Rome, Santander and Westminster; Transport for London and Deutsche Bahn’s electronic journey planner for London and Berlin respectively; public light bus system in Hong Kong; and integrative public transport model in Copenhagen.
As efficient information system and technological infrastructures are integral parts of all of these initiatives and Nepal, if all plans go as planned, too plans to develop as many smart cities as possible in different parts of the country within next couple of years, I think now is the right time for concerned authorities in the government – particularly the newly elected officials in country’s six metropolitan cities, selected sub-metropolitan cities and few municipalities – to collaborate with suitable and relevant local and international government and private sector partners to better manage urban areas’ current and future transportation related complications.
Jaya Jung Mahat, an alumnus of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, is a Kathmandu-based public policy researcher. He writes extensively on issues that connect economics, politics and innovation. He can be reached at email@example.com