KMC in no mood to provide further subsidy that operators say is vital to keep the service afloat KATHMANDU, Jan 23: If you are a regular passenger of night bus service operated recently by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), there´s bad news. As the six-month trial period for the service nears its end, the fate of the night bus service hangs in balance.
The KMC had provided a cash subsidy of Rs 4.5 million to National Federation of Nepal Transport Entrepreneurs (NFNTE) to run the service for a six-month period which ends in the second week of February.
The KMC is not in a position to continue the cash subsidy to NFNTE, said Kedar Bahadur Adhikari, the chief of KMC. “We should seek an alternative,” he added
According to Adhikari, one alternative could be asking commuters of the night bus to pay more. Another alternative may be stopping public transports other than the NFNTE run night buses from plying in the night. If these two alternatives do not work out, then we can think of a way for the KMC and transportation entrepreneurs to jointly operate the service, Adhikari said.
“If all the alternatives fail to keep the night bus service afloat, we can compel all public transport service providers to operate buses till late night,” said Adhikari.
Bagmati coordinator of NFNTE Dharma Raj Rimal said, “We can not continue to operate the night bus service without government subsidy.” The transport entrepreneurs are asking the KMC to provide cash subsidy for another six-month period.
The transport federation also wants the KMC to develop basic infrastructure for the night bus service within the extended trial period to ensure safe traveling for commuters.
According to Adhikari, the KMC is going to install 150 solar lamps at various points along the route of the night bus. “Besides, we are also discussing many other plans to save the night bus service,” he said.
Transport entrepreneurs claim that they have incurred huge losses despite the government subsidy. “Even the subsidy is not enough to offset the losses,” said Rimal. “For the survival of the night bus service, various measures need to be taken apart from another round of subsidy.”
Chitra Bahadur Bhatta, who owns and drives a night bus, says, “Other public vehicles have also started providing night service after the night bus run by NFNTE came into operation. It has benefited many night commuters, but at the same time, it has posed a challenge to our night bus service.”
As many as 14 night buses are in operation from 8pm to 11pm on six different routes in Kathmandu and Lalitpur. There are two buses each for Satdobato-Lagankhel-Ratnapark, Koteshwar-Sinamangal-Jorpati, Kalanki-Ratnapark, Jorpati-Ratnapark and Bansbari-Ratnapark routes, while four buses ply Koteshwor-Kalanki ring road.
“Each bus makes Rs 500 to Rs 700 on average in the first trip. But after that, there are very few passengers. Without the government´s subsidy, we cannot continue the service,” informed Bhatta.
However, he thinks preventing other public vehicles from plying after eight in the evening and revising the night time fares can still save the night bus services.
Meanwhile, KMC chief Kedar Bahadur Adhikari said, “As we have received positive response from all quarters, we do not want to halt the service. We are holding talks with the Department of Transport Management, KMC, Ministry of Finance and NFNTE to explore other alternatives.”
------ Not reliable service
Ravi Shankar Chaudhary, 22, who lives in Gwarko, Lalitpur, often returns home late in the night. For that, he relies on night buses plying the ring-road.
Although he reaches Gwarko from Kalanki easily by a night bus, he has to hire a taxi to get home from there. “My room is just 3 kilometers from Gwarko chowk,” says Chaudhary. “I can go home on foot, but I don´t because I feel insecure. I fear that I might get looted on the way?”
Although the night bus service has been beneficial to many late-night commuters in the valley, it is yet to be a reliable mode of transport for all.
Hundreds of late-night passengers still prefer taxis to return home in the night despite the availability of night buses.
While many people are still unaware of the night bus service, even those who know have no idea about its arrival and departure time. Likewise, Bhaktapur and Kritipur bound commuters have no other alternatives than to hire taxis for further travel as the buses do not ply in the districts.
No initiative to promote night life Dharma Raj Rimal, Bagmati Zonal Coordinator of NTENF
How profitable is the night bus service?
The night buses were operated to provide service rather than for making profit. With the subsidies provided by the KMC, the night buses are hardly able to earn operating costs. Lack of basic infrastructure has hindered the service to run in a full-fledged manner. Even in the presence of night buses, people are compelled to hire taxi to go home.
The trial period is expiring soon. Is the federation willing to continue the service?
Yes, we really want to continue the service. We have asked the KMC to extend the trial period and provide further subsides. If the KMC says it cannot provide subsidies, then KMC should come up with other the economically viable alternatives that will help us sustain and make a little bit of profit.
What should be done to keep the service going without subsidies?
The night bus service was launched to support the night life in the Kathmandu Valley. But no initiatives have been taken to promote night life. The KMC is yet to come up with a long-term plan for the service. Only few needy with no other options for traveling in the night use the service.
The government should create favorable environment to keep markets open till late night. The security of pedestrians walking till late night must be guaranteed. This would increase the mobility of people during night which will in turn benefit the night buses.