Nepali Times
My Two Paisa
It's an expensive jam


It is rush hour and vehicles struggle to move through a jam at Kalimati intersection. The congestion is made worse by two trails of vehicles on both lanes of the road, lining up for petrol and diesel. Petroleum imports from India have come down by nearly half because we owe Indian Oil nearly Rs 2 billion. But while we sit in our cars and complain about the fuel shortage and traffic, what we don't realise is that we are wasting much more than time while stuck in traffic.

During peak hours, a 20-minute journey can take up to an hour. Over 555,700 vehicles are registered in Bagmati zone, all crammed into about the same length of road as there was 15 years ago. Rallies on the main thoroughfares, accidents, and 'sawari' of VIPs, add on to the gridlock. Roundabouts that are meant to streamline vehicles instead become the centre of traffic congestion. A jam at a major intersection often has a spillover effect on secondary road networks and gallis. It is often question of life or death: patients have died in ambulances because they couldn't get to the hostpial in time.

The Indonesian Transportation Ministry recently released statistics stating that traffic jams in Jakarta cost the city at least US $3 billion each year and 40 per cent of it is related to the fuel wasted by idling vehicle engines. While such a study for Kathmandu is missing, we can do some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations.

Most drivers choose to keep their engines on during traffic halts, in anticipation that the vehicles will move forward. But keeping the engine on idle consumes more fuel than when the vehicle is on the move. A 1000cc car burns 2 litres of fuel if it is kept in idle for an hour, a heavier vehicle consumes double. A motorcycle engine consumes 0.25 litre per hour if it is just sitting in a jam. This means that if you own a 1000cc petrol hatchback and you are stuck in traffic for an hour a day you lose Rs 194 a day (@ Rs 97/litre), Rs 5,820 a month and Rs 69,840 a year. Multiply that by the total number of vehicles and you see that the current petroleum shortage is probably good for the country because at least we are wasting less fuel.

There are other costs: the fumes from stationary vehicles adds to the already toxic air. Idling in traffic, frequent acceleration and braking also increases the wear and tear on vehicles, leading to more frequent repairs and replacements. Mismanaged traffic also results in stressed and frustrated drivers, hypertension and increases chances of road rage and accidents.

The most logical solution to manage traffic is to build roads and widen the existing ones. But while we wait for that to happen, let's be proactive to cut the costs of traffic jams. If you leave your house half an hour earlier than rush hour, you can skip traffic. Keep an eye for short cuts- the link roads beside the valley rivers are newer, shorter and often faster. Try the public transportation, Rs 20 can get you anywhere. And if the distance isn't too far, give your car a rest and walk or cycle, it's good for your health and your pocket. Start today, Fridays have been declared 'bike to work' days after all.

Follow the river, #511

1. Thurpunsich
The traffic jam that Kathmandu has is mainly due to two things -- 1) utter lack of traffic management, and 2) utter failure in urban (transportation) planning.

Where you have two-lane roads, you have traffic that never moves in just two lanes; it moves as if there is no lane, with the effect that a segment of road can have 5 vehicles going and another segment 4, and yet another 6. And, sometimes, one vehicle will decide to make a u-turn in the middle of that chaos. The traffic police will stand by (with a dusk mask on her face), doing nothing. You have intersections that cross not in 90 degrees but less or more than that, giving rise to the possibility of unnecessary accidents. You have intersections with no traffic lights. Drivers drive, but with great accidental risks.

You have roads that I don't think meet any modern standards. Shame on the local government agencies; and shame on municipal governments. And shame on the central government.

2. jange

But keeping the engine on idle consumes more fuel than when the vehicle is on the move.

Now that is the sort of calculations we need to get better traffic management.

3. Rituraj Sapkota
"There are other costs: the fumes from stationery vehicles adds to the already toxic air."
Sorry, I get picky about these small things. I wanted to comment on the issue, but this just took away all of my attention.

4. who cares
can any one tell me which one consumes more oil- keeping the engine running for 1 min or restarting the engine?

5. Sherpa Observer
Good report.ツ

6. Professor
This is very Good Report but who will Work on It . MOL&T or MOPP
where is your planning commissio? . Population 50 years before and services
develop within last 35 years does not match current situation planner should review at least 15 years sustainable plant other wise consequences will be of water supply within 5 years. concerned should take care.

7. Auto industry engineer

But keeping the engine on idle consumes more fuel than when the vehicle is on the move.

Not true, an idling engine uses much less fuel than in a vehicle in motion, and in vehicles with diesel engines in particular the idle fuel consumption can be a tiny fraction of that used when the vehicle is moving.

Nonetheless,テつ the article is correct to highlight the problem of the dreadful traffic situation in the Valley. One shudders to think what the traffic situation will be like 10 or 20 years down the road, if we extrapolate along the growth (in vehicle count and traffic jams) trends seen over the past two decades. More roads and/or wider roads in the Valley can't be the answer, given the constraint of existing buildings and the incredible price of land. Kathmandu and environs, with some of the highest population densities in the world,テつ in an ideal environment for public transportation. A metro system, whichテつ doesn't chew up any valuable surface area, might be the best alternative for moving large numbers of people around Kathmandu and Patan, but such an ambitious endevour would be highly unlikely in a country that can't even build a critically needed drinking water supply tunnel in a reasonable time period. An updated track-based trolley system, with dedicated lanes that can't be obstructed by traffic, is probably a more realistic option.テつ Kathmandu's infrastructure can't handle the vehicles there are now, yet alone hundreds of thousands more vehicles in the future, so some restrictions on vehicle ownership are going to be required at some point.テつ A system of vehicle registration taxes that controls vehicle numbers by market mechanisms, like the system in place in Singapore, could (absent corruption of course) both reduce the car and motorcycle count while funding a modern public transit system.テつ Such a system works by selling the right to drive to the highest bidder, funneling the proceeds into the metro and bus systems.テつ Absent sensible planning for such a future, reality is likely to be more and more of what we have now, as unpleasant as that is to contemplate.

8. jange

7. Auto industry engineer

An updated track-based trolley system, with dedicated lanes that can't be obstructed by traffic, is probably a more realistic option.

There used to be a trolley bus system and that wasn't manageable either.

A free trolley bus system around the ringroad with a bus available every few minutes would cost a lot less than the waste due to the traffic congestion at the moment.

There is no shortage of technical solutions. As long as the politics is first sorted out.

9. Shreyash
What is wrong with us????????

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)