Thimphu and its traffic woes

Traffic congestion in Thimphu is nothing new. It has been there for quite some years now and even continues today. We see the problem getting only worse year after year as more vehicles find their way into the country.

As of September last year, there were around 116,926 vehicles registered with the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA). In 2020, about 6,702 new vehicles were registered with the RSTA, which means an average of 18 vehicles daily.

Thimphu is already reeling under the pressure of an increased number of vehicles today as it has the highest number of registered vehicles with 62,850 as of September last year. This could even translate to one vehicle for every two persons in Thimphu.

The increase in the number of vehicles, therefore, has also resulted in many problems, such as traffic congestion, shortage of parking spaces, and pollution. The residents can see these happening with their own eyes too. What used to take 10 minutes to drive five kilometers around the city now takes almost 30 minutes. The situation could be further worse if it is during rush hours. Further, it is not only arduous to get parking spaces, even the queue at the fueling stations has become longer today.

The launch of the additional buses with new features for Thimphu by the City Bus Service last year was timely to address the traffic problems that we see here in Thimphu.

Not only additional buses but bus routes have also been extended with additional bus stops. It is expected that the enhanced services will address the traffic congestion in the city.

There is no denying that the main solution is an improved public transportation system if we want to address the problems of the increasing number of vehicles and the pressure on our road infrastructure. However, it must also be ensured that the services are easily available, reasonable, and reliable. If the services are efficient, there will obviously be people who would be interested and who would use the services.

The outright solution to these problems could be to put a total ban or cap the number of vehicles that are imported. Again, this would be insensible and not the correct way to do things. But something must be done before the situation becomes beyond our reach and control.

Already, the policy document, Bhutan Transport 2040 Integrated Strategic Vision, states that transport will be increased by a boom in hydropower, industrial development, rural-urban migration, poverty reduction, and growing wealth. The policy document states that population growth, a large volume of intercity travel, and more travel within Thimphu will increase congestion and environmental degradation.

What we do today, therefore, will determine the kind of future that we will have.