Sitoula assures safe journey to all in festivals
Saroj Sitoula is general-secretary of the Federation of Nepal National Transport Entrepreneurs (FNNTE). Born in Taplejung district, Sitoula has been involved in the transportation business for the last 30 years. During his 30 years in the transportation business, he has been a witness to various ups and downs in this sector. Besides, Sitoula has worked for around 15 years as a leader of transport entrepreneurs at the regional level as well as at the central level. Before being elected to the post of general-secretary of the FNNTE, Sitoula had also served as treasurer of the umbrella organisation of transport entrepreneurs.
With the major festivals of Dashain, Tihar and Chhath approaching, the role of the transportation sector is crucial in providing safe and comfortable transportation services to the passengers wanting to go to their homes to mark the festival with their family members. Every year, the transportation sector faces a sudden rise in the number of passengers during festivals, which sometimes becomes unmanageable. During the festival time, incidents of cheating and accidents also go up. As such, the FNNTE and other organisations of the transport entrepreneurs are under pressure to manage the flow of passengers. As an umbrella organisation of transport entrepreneurs, the FNTTE takes a coordinating role to make the required arrangement for the safe, timely and comfortable journey of all festival passengers.
At this juncture, C K Khanal of The Rising Nepal spoke with Sitoula about various issues of Nepal’s transportation sector, including the overall arrangement to send passengers from the capital and major cities to their home districts for the festival.
During the upcoming Dashain festival, the flow of passengers, as in the previous years, is likely to be high as many people living in Kathmandu and other cities are preparing to go home. What arrangements have been made for the service of the large number of passengers?
To provide transportation facility to all the passengers from the capital to their home districts, we have started ticket booking from various locations of Kathmandu, including the Gongabu New Bus Park, Gaushala, Koteshwor, Kalanki, Balkhu and Sundhara. Volunteers from the transportation committees and companies, with identity cards, have been deployed to book the Dashain tickets at these locations. Besides, civilian help desks have also been set up at 12 different locations in the Kathmandu Valley to help the passengers and minimise the possible incidents of cheating of passengers. Representatives of the transport entrepreneurs, traffic police, Department of Transport Management and consumer rights forums have been manning the civilian help desks.
We have categorised the passenger pressure during the festival into four groups: for 15 days, 10 days, 7 days and 3 days. Out of these groups, three days starting from Fulpati to Mahanawami and seven days starting from Ghatasthapana to Fulpati are the days on which there will be immense pressure of the passengers, and we face a big challenge to make the required arrangements. For this, we are going to use vehicles from different parts of the country. New vehicles will not arrive for the purpose. During the peak seven days, around 5,000 to 7,000 vehicles on a daily basis will be leaving Kathmandu, carrying the Dashain passengers to their home districts. Around 1,800,000 to 2,000,000 passengers are expected to leave the Kathmandu Valley during this Dashain.
From the arrangements you have planned, can a festival passenger be assured of a safe and timely journey?
Regarding vehicles, we have made optimum arrangements to ensure the availability of vehicles as per the requirement of the expected flow of passengers during the festival. But the availability of vehicles alone cannot ensure timely and safe travel. The condition of the roads is not good. We have urged the government to improve the condition of the roads, at least temporarily. On the other side, the increasing number of vehicles on the roads can also cause traffic jams, therefore, effective traffic management is also required for the smooth movement of the passenger vehicles. We have tried our best to provide facility to the passengers. The government should also act responsibly so that vehicles can move safely and in time.
This year, the booking of the festival tickets was delayed due to some demands put forth by the transport entrepreneurs. What were your demands?
Our protest was to ensure the safety and comfort of our passengers during the festivals. By amending the transport regulation, the government has introduced a provision which bars passenger vehicles from placing carriers on the roofs. But without carriers on the buses, we cannot manage the baggage of our passengers. Therefore, one of our demands was to give us permission to have carriers to carry the baggage of the passengers.
Similarly, the condition of our roads is so poor that it is hard to ensure a safe journey, and we asked the government to improve the road condition. Our demand was not to allow transport entrepreneurs to hike bus fares during Dashain as reported by a section of the media. The fare review is an ongoing process, and it needs to be adjusted as per the change in the price. The bus fares have not been adjusted for the last five years according to a scientific adjustment mechanism agreed upon.
As per the agreed mechanism, fuel comprises 35 per cent of the transportation charges, and other factors account for 65 per cent of the cost. As the cost of labour, transportation equipment and materials have increased over the years, we have been demanding a review of the bus fares based on the cost of fuel and other materials and services.
What is your stand regarding the vehicle fitness test?
The government has made a provision to have the fitness of long route passenger buses tested at the Vehicle Fitness Test Centre (VFTC) located at Teku. In our view, the centralised testing system of vehicles is not rational at a time when the country is going for a federal system. Therefore, we protested against the decision of the government. As a result the Department of Transport Management is making the required arrangements to provide testing facilities at the local level. We are not against the use of modern equipment in testing the fitness of vehicles, but it should be available at the local level as per the concept of the federal system and local governance.
Organisations or associations of the transport entrepreneurs are often blamed for promoting the syndicate system in the transportation sector by restricting competition. What is your response to this allegation?
We, transportation entrepreneurs, do not agree with the allegation. In fact, we are for fair competition in the market. The FNNTE has always tried to promote fair competition in the market. If anyone misinterprets the term ‘alopalo’ - operation of vehicles in turns - as a syndicate system, we have nothing to say about it. For the systematic operation of vehicles and to minimise possible accidents, the operation of vehicles turn by turn is essential. The uncontrolled import of vehicles without any needs assessment is also responsible for the turn by turn system.
In recent years, the government is focusing on a mass transportation system, especially in the major cities, discouraging small public vehicles. What is the view of FNNTE on this?
The promotion of a mass transportation system is appreciable. But a mass transportation system alone cannot meet the transportation needs of the people, especially in those areas where the roads are narrow. We have to rely on small public vehicles on such roads. In order to encourage a mass transit system, the government should discourage small private vehicles, including motorbikes and cars. The rapidly increasing number of motorcycles and private cars has been the major problem in managing the traffic in the major cities, including Kathmandu. The promotion of a mass transportation system should be followed by discouraging the use of private vehicles.
Would you like to say something more?
The transportation sector is an important sector in facilitating people and promoting economic development. Transportation entrepreneurs have invested huge amounts of money in the sector. They are providing employment opportunities to thousands of workers. Therefore, the government should act as a facilitator to the business by creating a favourable environment for the smooth growth of this sector. Frequent change in policies and laws of the government has adversely affected the environment of doing business. The government policies and laws should be formulated on the basis of a long-term vision.