Balancing efficiency and commuter concerns over Thimphu’s bus priority lane pilot test

Thimphu Thromde, in collaboration with the traffic police, initiated a priority lane pilot test along the motorway. This trial, aimed at streamlining traffic and improving response times for emergency vehicles, has sparked a range of opinions among drivers and commuters.

The recently issued notification by Thromde outlines the eligibility criteria for vehicles allowed in the bus priority lane. The lane is reserved for ambulances, fire vehicles, emergency vehicles, police escort vehicles, all buses, VVIP vehicles, and any vehicles transporting critical patients requiring emergency services. Additionally, taxis and private vehicles with two or more passengers are permitted in the designated lane.

The bus priority lane is active between Babesa Zero and the Changzamtog flyover bridge during peak hours, specifically from 7–10 am  and 3:30–6 pm.

City bus drivers have expressed satisfaction with the pilot test, citing improved punctuality and efficiency. A city bus driver, who commutes from town to Babesa, praised the dedicated lane.

He said that it has allowed buses to reach their destinations on time and navigate through traffic more swiftly. Previously, buses often faced delays due to stops between vehicles, significantly impacting travel times.

Commuters who rely on city buses share a similar sentiment. Dorji Khandu, a 23-year-old regular city bus traveller from Babesa, said, “The bus priority lane has made bus services faster and more reliable. My journey to the office in Chubachu usually takes 30 minutes; now it takes me a few minutes earlier, which is quite nice.”

However, the introduction of the bus priority lane has raised concerns among taxi drivers and owners of private vehicles. Ngawang, a taxi driver, said, “The challenge of adhering to the lane restriction, where taxis are only permitted with 2 or more passengers during peak hours, this restriction has led to passengers experiencing delays during rush hours, impacting their schedules.”

“I worry that if this bus priority lane is implemented permanently, we may have fewer passengers. With public transport becoming faster and passengers becoming unhappier with the taxi drivers,” he added.

Moreover, taxi drivers and private vehicle owners have voiced concerns about the potential for accidents. They pointed out that some drivers take advantage of the absence of traffic police monitoring and switch lanes abruptly, posing risks to themselves and others on the road.

Sangay Wangmo, a regular commuter who prefers taxis for their speed and less crowded nature, expressed her dilemma. “While buses have become faster, they still remain crowded, putting me at a disadvantage because of this new rule,” she said.

This sentiment raises questions about the effectiveness of the current system in meeting the diverse needs of commuters.

Several commuters echoed their concerns about the impact on individual travellers during peak hours. Tenzin Wangmo questioned the criteria, emphasising that not all commuters have the option of travelling with companions. She suggested that authorities should consider alternative measures for those travelling individually, especially if they are not covered under the emergency or critical patient categories.

The issue of traffic under the Lungtenphu bridge, and over the flyover bridge in Changzamtok was also raised by both commuters and drivers. They noted that the specific areas was well-regulated by traffic police before the pilot test, and traffic flowed smoothly.

While the trial period is set to continue until students return to school, concerns raised by commuters and drivers indicate a need for a more comprehensive and inclusive approach.

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