The Transport sector has witnessed remarkable growth in the last forty six years since Bhutan launched its first five-year development plan. Rapid socio-economic development, improved standard of living and higher purchasing power of the people have led to greater mobility and increased economic activities, thereby increasing demand for better and efficient transport services and facilities. With globalization and increased trade, the need for an efficient transportation system to enhance connectivity in the region, has also gained immense significance.
The sector itself has undergone dramatic transformation. The present Road Safety & Transport Authority (RSTA) was established in 1997 and mandated with responsibilities related to administration of vehicle registration, roadworthiness program, driver licensing, emission control, and monitoring and regulating passenger transport services. Transport services are delivered and enforced through the RSTA’s four regional offices, which are further supported by the base offices covering most Dzongkhags. Transport infrastructure, primarily in the form of integrated passenger terminal and bus sheds is available at the four regional offices.
Passenger transport services are available in 18 of the 20 Dzongkhags with the exception of Pemagatshel and Gasa. Accessibility and equity of passenger transport services are ensured through interest subsidy on loan to private operators who operate on some non-profitable routes. Public transport services in Thimphu have also been improved with the induction of comfortable buses for local conveyance. Taxis services are also available in all urban centers in addition to personalized transport. Service delivery in the transport sector has also seen significant improvements. On-line sharing of information concerning passenger transport services, vehicles, drivers and other related information are now available. Similarly, vehicle registration and roadworthiness system, driver licensing and emission testing facilities have been streamlined and improved. Considering the rapid increase in the number of vehicles, road safety issues are also being given due importance.
A new and notable development for the future could be the introduction of railway transport in the southern parts of the country. Feasibility studies are being undertaken to explore the possibility of introducing other mass public transport system.
Opportunities and Challenges
Despite the very important role which the transport sector plays in supporting the socio-economic development of the country, the quality, quantity and accessibility of transport infrastructure and services is still far from adequate. The sector therefore, needs improvement in several areas.
Passenger transport services in remote areas are either inadequate or unreliable, mainly due to high operating cost because of narrow and winding roads, seasonal flow of passengers and low earnings. This is also the case for urban transport services given the dramatic increase in private vehicle ownership. Problems related to traffic congestion, high rate of road crashes and environmental pollution continues to increase. Traffic enforcement is low due to the lack of trained enforcement professionals, safety equipment and limited mobility. Road safety measures and public awareness call for greater attention, and post accident management capacity needs urgent enhancement.
While there has been a dramatic increase in the number of motor vehicles in the country, the road network has increased only marginally. For this reason, the need for introducing alternative modes of mass transport is urgent. Transportation costs and travel time are very high, while the freight and logistics industry requires greater streamlining and development. The surface transport infrastructure is also inadequate. Bus terminals and sheds need to be constructed and renovated for better service coverage in several parts of the country. Land acquisition for development of transport infrastructure in urban areas will pose serious problems with land prices rising. Disabled friendly transport facilities are not currently provided at bus terminals and public amenities along the national highways do not exist. Although the basic legal and policy framework for motor vehicle regulation is in place, gaps exist in certain areas such as the lack of regulations pertaining to the operation of automobile workshops. The delivery of public service is another area requiring careful attention.
Policy and Strategies
The surface transport sector activities will be guided by its overall policy objective to improve access to safe, reliable, affordable, convenient, environment-friendly, responsible and high quality transport system in the country by minimizing constraints to the mobility of people, goods and services.
This objective is based on the principles that improved access to reliable and safe transportation system is crucial for socio-economic development and to enhance quality of life and facilitate expansion of trade and tourism; that an efficient transport system is necessary to achieve reduction in travel time, road user cost and the cost of transportation; that road accidents must be reduced if not eliminated; that the adverse impact of the transport system on natural environment and air quality needs to be mitigated; that private sector participation can bring about significant improvement in the level of transport services; that improved and efficient delivery of services to the public lead to higher productivity and promote good governance; and that an efficient transport system maximizes Gross National Happiness by continuously raising living standards and expanding opportunities and choices of our people.
The following specific objectives and strategies have been adopted for the surface transport sector:
Improve accessibility, equity and affordability of passenger transport services:
Ensure that the needs of all commuters including children, women, sick or the physically disabled and elderly are adequately addressed;
Increase transport network and frequency of services;
Subsidize passenger transport services on uneconomical routes;
Regulate tariffs for passenger transport services including taxis; and
Reduce transportation cost and travel time through better and shorter roads including tunneling, in consultation with other relevant agencies.
Promote urban transport:
Introduce urban transport where lacking and increase the number of city buses and expand route coverage;
Study feasibility and develop mass public transport such as sky train, electric tram or trolley buses;
Expand urban transports services and deploy additional buses in major towns and discourage use of personal cars through congestion pricing and administrative measures; and
Encourage non-motorized transport such as cycling and walking.
Provide choice of passenger and freight transport:
Explore, plan and develop alternative modes of passenger and freight transport such as railways and ropeways; and
Explore and implement inland water ways, where feasible.
Develop, upgrade and maintain transport infrastructure and facilities:
Improve land use planning and correct spatial imbalances to address transport infrastructure and operation requirements;
Develop quality transport infrastructure such as integrated bus terminal, offices and waiting sheds; and
Promote and establish convenient rest facilities along national highways.