Life in the City: Traffic Mess in Kathmandu

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there is complete anarchy on the streets of Kathmandu when it comes to traffic. I hear some people quipping that the real loktantra (democracy) has come to the drivers of this country who are happy to ignore the traffic rules and act on their own terms.

As I was going to office in a Nepal Yatayat bus this afternoon, I decided to go to Kumari Cinema for Bourne Ultimatum instead. Then I witnessed and experienced the fierce competition between the two drivers of the Nepali Yatayat bus service in a chaotic traffic system in the busy roads of Kathmandu. I got off in New Baneshwor, left the Pepsicola-Kalimati-Jawalakhel Nepal Yatayat and hurriedly entered into a moving Koteshwor-Putali Sadak-Baluwataar Nepal Yatayat. I was getting late for the 3:15 PM show but it appeared that the driver of the Nepal Yatayat understood my anxiety.

As the bus approached the other side of New Baneshwor (western gate of international convention center) there was another Nepal Yatayat and the driver of my NY started honking tirelessly. He wanted to literally push the other NY aside and go ahead of that so that he could have more passengers in his bus. The other NY immediately provided space to my NY and my NY immediately overtook. Then it was turn of the other NY to honk, continuously. My NY driver took out his hand and signaled the driver behind to overtake if he wants. This honking, chasing and overtaking continued for about 10 minutes and my driver got about dozen passengers in Ghattekulo. Sad that the other driver, whose bus was already packed with many other passengers, couldn’t get them!

When NY service was launched a few years ago in Kathmandu many people hesitated to board inside the bus and use the service because people thought the buses were too fancy looking and must therefore be for rich people or tourists. That perception was soon changed and NY became one of the most popular services in Kathmandu because of the route it operated itself in. No other bus service was available in that route. But the Nepal Yatayat also because notorious for carrying passengers more than a bus’s capacity. Passengers with no choice to take another bus in the route are forced to stuff themselves like Gundruk (‘national’ vegetable of Nepal that’s made when leaves of certain green vegetable are tightly stuffed into a pot and the water in them is taken out completely.) So passengers are stuffed like the vegetable leaves in the bus. The drivers and their assistants (conductors) are so much aggressive in putting more passengers in their bus that they don’t hesitate to stop the bus at any point on the road.

This applies even more to the micro buses of Kathmandu. I have heard many people complaining that such behavior of micro bus drivers in the city are largely responsible for creating traffic chaos. They stop anywhere and don’t care about the lane discipline that the traffic police sometime try to promote on the streets. The introduction of micro bus, mainly after the removal of three-wheeler Bikaram Tempo, has provided easier access of many places in the city for the residents but they have also become traffic hazards. There are not proper footpaths alongside the roads in Kathmandu which makes very difficult for people to walk. Today my NY bus almost hit a person near New Baneshwor.

Also there is problem with pedestrian was well. They hardly follow the traffic rules. I see many, even students and apparently educated folks, crossing the streets from any point they feel like crossing, blatantly ignoring the zebra crossing and over head bridges. When you want to cross the road, you literally have to push aside the moving vehicles and move ahead. I understand people coming from village not following the traffic rules but I am appalled when I see high school and college going tanneris, in their school uniform, crossing the road the wrong way at wrong points. Even at the places where the green and red ‘cross now’ or ‘don’t cross now’ symbol are installed, people happily ignore them and walk in their own pace.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there is complete anarchy on the streets of Kathmandu when it comes to traffic. I hear some people quipping that the real loktantra (democracy) has come to the drivers of this country who are happy to ignore the traffic rules and act on their own terms. Another problem is the deteriorating moral of the traffic policemen. Because of the mob culture that quickly ruled the city of Kathmandu taking advantage of transition, people started taking laws into their own hands. If you don’t like a certain thing, you go to the street, disrupt the traffic and start a demonstration. If a traffic police fines a cab driver for driving carelessly, the cabbies association will soon stop the vehicular movement and start protesting the fine.

I also hear from many foreigners, residents of many big and great cities around the world, that the traffic in Kathmandu is especially bad compared to their city more because here people ignore the rules for they don’t fear the traffic laws. “It will take a week to get adjusted in the traffic of Kathmandu,” said a friend of mine who lives in the US. “Once you know the rules (that is to say no rules), you are ready to take your own speed.” Also the road in Kathmandu is limited, hasn’t been expanded and extended and/or is in bad condition. The city population is increasing and so is the number of vehicles that are operated in the roads. This is causing huge problem.

P.S.: I wasn’t late for the Matt Demon flick but was able to reach at the theater five minutes early, thanks to the tough competition between the drivers. I though competition always benefits the consumers! And the movie was superb. Loved the whole package of drama, thrill and hide and seek.