Monday, 25 August 2008

Bhutan : Surface Transport Master Plan

23 August, 2008 - Revision of tax and fees on vehicles according to size, green tax on older vehicles, pedestrianisation of Norzin Lam, tramline buses in Thimphu, Gelephu and Paro, monorail from Thimphu to Paro, river transport and a railway system inside Bhutan.

These are some of the proposals suggested for study in the surface transport development plan. The plan is an effort by the government to develop a long-term transportation plan and strategy for 15 to 20 years at about Nu 4.5 billion.

“The main objective of the plan is to decongest our urban areas and make them pedestrian-friendly and provide more access to rural areas,” said information and communication minister, Lyonpo Nandalal Rai.

On the tax proposal in the report, the minister said, These are only suggestions and only the cabinet can take a final decision on what taxes, fees and charges are to be incorporated.” The green tax, he said, though not yet finalised, was proposed to phase out emission unfriendly vehicles exceeding their life span.

Under urban transport, it is proposed that Norzin Lam be turned into a pedestrian plaza up to Chubachu with no parking and limited access to tourist buses, taxis and emergency vehicles. All major roads in Thimphu are to be widened into double lanes with traffic to be funneled through peripheral roads. There is also a proposal to build two multistoried parking lots on the current city parking and also in front of Lugar theatre.

“Projects like the tram and monorail will be expensive and need to be studied before any decision is taken,” said the minister.

Phuentsholing has got proposals for one-way traffic roads, city bus service covering core areas like Pasakha, new parking lots, and a truck terminal on the outskirts. Overall proposals are developing cycling lanes and pedestrian-friendly footpaths in all urban areas, introducing congestion tax on busy roads and reducing registration of taxis.

For rural areas, the focus will be on converting farm roads to feeder roads and mule tracks to feeder roads. A system of government support, investment, soft loans and subsidy is also suggested for unprofitable routes in rural areas.

For regional transport, different colours for local and long distance taxis will be examined, 8-9-seater maxi cabs may be allowed, construction of new bus terminals in dzongkhags and upgradation of current ones. As of now, 62 roads in the country have no regular public transportation.

For road safety, proposed measures include audits for all new or existing roads with regular maintenance and checks by road department inspectors.

It also proposes establishing search and rescue teams, GPS system for public transport, computer-based vehicle testing facilities and accident data analysis.

For emission control, introduction of the euro 4 standard in Thimphu and Phuentsholing by 2012 and euro 3 by 2010 for other places have been proposed.

For alternatives to road transport Lyonpo Nandlal said, “We can examine the feasibility of using Mo Chu, Pho Chu and Manas rivers for transport and an internal light railways based on the Darjeeling model.” This rail model could be for east-west connection from the south and also to complement the GoI rail links at the borders.

Some proposals will be implemented in the 10th Plan like more driving schools. The feasibility of rail connections at Gelephu, Samdrup Jongkhar, Nanglam and Samtse will also be studied.

By Tenzing Lamsang

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