Nepali Times
Tempos on the run


The government's recent decision to withhold registration of new passenger vehicles for the Kathmandu core city area may have made environmental activists happy, and disturbed operators, manufacturers and advocates of electric vehicles, but it remains to be seen how it will affect the transport situation in the capital.

The decision followed a government taskforce report that the number of motor vehicles plying in the capital has already crossed the bearing capacity of the roads here. According to the report, if all the 248,000 vehicles registered in the valley were to come out on the valley's 740 km of motorable roads, Kathmandu's traffic would come to a standstill. The report recommends that no new passenger vehicles be registered until Kathmandu's traffic management is considerably improved.

"We will soon formulate a policy that will allow only environmentally friendly vehicles to ply in Kathmandu, we also recommend development of a mass transit system," says Director General of the Department of Transport Management, Krishna Murari Sharma, who was also a member of the taskforce.

This is not the first time that "environment-friendly vehicles" and a "mass transit system" have been advocated for Kathmandu. Back in 1996, the National Planning Commission (NPC) had made the same suggestion. The following years saw the government offer import tax cuts and VAT (value added tax) relief to entrepreneurs who wanted to operate non-diesel and non-petrol vehicles. At the same time, rather than follow the NPC recommendation that a mass transit system be developed, the official policy encouraged small vehicles like low-capacity micro-buses and electric and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) three-wheelers (tempos).

The number of commuters in Kathmandu has been rising by an estimated 7.2 percent every year, and an unchecked influx of a large number of small capacity vehicles could lead to more traffic headaches. That was one reason why the NPC had suggested the gradual phasing out of six-seater tempos (which, in 1991, made up more than half of the 12,386 daily service trips in the valley) which would drop the traffic volume by 53 percent. Presently, 12-seater electric and LPG tempos and microbuses have replaced most of the six-seaters, but their effect on public transport has not been studied.

The 1996 NPC report stated that efficient transport management was the solution to the city's traffic problems. Its 'origin-destination' survey of total trips made by public transport on various routes showed that traffic delay caused by bad management ranged from 21 hours to 299 hours per day. Increasing the efficiency of traffic flow by 33 percent could have accommodated the annual growth of commuters up to 2001 without any significant increase in the 238,063 vehicles registered till that year.

Both the NPC and the taskforce reports stress the need to encourage more 'clean' vehicles, but as the idea is to develop a mass transit system, the battery-operated three-wheelers are not even considered. "We are capable of manufacturing four-wheeled large capacity electric vehicles of 20-22 seat capacity," claims Ashok Pandey, general manager of Nepal Electric Vehicle Industry (NEVI). "But first the government has to come up with a favourable policy."

Under present rules, only manufacturers of electric tempos (popularly known as safa tempos) are provided tax cuts on imported parts. But they say that the government's policy of waiving VAT for electric and LPG tempo imports is hampering the Nepali tempo industry. Presently, there are five electric tempo manufacturers in the country and they produce two tempos per day on an average. But since they depend on VAT payable imported parts like chassis and batteries, they do not have the price advantage over the electric or gas tempos, which are imported with only 1 percent import tax, but do not pay VAT. The tempo companies have applied for licences to manufacture chassises in the country, but have so far been denied permission on the grounds that the government lacks policies.

Safa tempo entrepreneurs have also shown willingness to reduce their rates once the government agrees to provide subsidies on the purchase of batteries and in electricity tariff. The Clean Locomotive Entrepreneurs' Federation of Nepal (CLEFN) recently announced a cut in electric tempo fares on some routes, and has promised reductions on other routes "soon".

"The government should treat us differently because we are environmentally friendly and we do not depend on fossil fuels that are a drain on the national coffer. Instead the government earns Rs 30 million annually from us," says Devi Prasad Limbu, CLEFN president. He said that for a country that is going to see an electricity surplus by the second half of next year, electric vehicles are the only answer to city transport.

All the general public can do is wait and see what kind of policy the government comes up with when the government finally opens new registrations, and, more importantly, if it makes public transport any better.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)