Thimphu’s main hope for more parking space for vehicles and reducing traffic congestion are the Thromde’s two Multi level Car Parking (MLCP) projects which are expected to provide additional parking for 550 cars.
However, on the other hand the Thromde and to an extent the JDWNRH are also planning to remove a total of 370 existing parking spaces in Norzin Lam, Thromde office area and the JDWNRH.
This is not counting around 1,200 new vehicles which enter the city’s traffic systems every year.
This bizarre logic may mean that while the MLCPs get filled to the brim it will not resolve Thimphu’s parking and traffic woes.
Parking is related to traffic congestion because it is estimated that about 30 per cent of the cars circling Thimphu city are doing so looking for parking space. In Core City, drivers spend more than 20 minutes looking for parking space which creates additional delays and impairs traffic circulation.
Thimphu thromde announced the two MLCPs with the stated aim of reducing congestion and parking. The two MLCP’s was awarded by the Thimphu Thromde to KCR Pvt Limited in 2014.
MLCP I is near Zangtopelri includes design, construction and operation of a multi level car park of at least 350 parking space in an area of approximately 5,400 square meters.
MLCP II parking below IMTRAT includes design, construction and operation of a multi-level car parking of at least 200 vehicles on an area of approximately 3,000 square meters.
KCR Pvt Limited is building the two MLCP’s on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) Model where KCR Pvt Limited would build the two structures with its own budget and operate the project for 22 years and then transfer it back to the Thromde.
To sweeten the deal KCR Pvt Limited has already been given the right to collect parking fees in all the core town areas.
Furthermore, KCR is being allowed to use 20 percent of the total space to build commercial establishments. This is something that shops along Norzin Lam and other areas are objecting to.
Removal of Parking space
However, after the completion of construction of the MLCPs, the thromde is planning to take away the parking space along Norzin Lam which has 230 parking spaces and also the parking space in front of Thromde’s office which has 20-30 parking spaces.
In addition, about 110 parking spaces in JDWNRH is in the process of being removed where a morgue, canteen, gym and other amenities are being constructed for hospital staff.
This is simple term means that while the two MLCP’s will create 550 parking spaces, the Thromde and JDWNRH will end up removing 370 existing parking spaces leading to the actual creation of only 180 new parking spaces.
Shops along Norzin Lam say that the removal of parking spaces on Norzin Lam by Thimphu Thromde will also harm their business and instead divert people to shops in the two MLCPs.
The shops had earlier put up a petition to the cabinet against the pedestrianization of Norzin Lam and the cabinet had given relief by putting the Thimphu Thromde’s plans to do so on hold.
However, the Thromde has not been resting easy and is trying to bypass this cabinet order by coming up with a new plan to allow vehicles to stop for only 15 minutes on Norzin Lam with their parking lights on. Add to this around 1200 new vehicles which enter Thimphu’s streets every year and the parking problem and congestion is only set to get worse.
Some shopkeepers say that the Thromde’s plan for Norzin Lam seems more about the commercial viability of the two MLCPs than actually creating additional parking space.
A Road Safety and Transport Authority’s (RSTA) senior official, on the condition of anonymity, said no matter how many parking space thromde creates’, the parking problem shall never be resolved and with the removal of parking spaces in Norzin Lam, it is going to make the situation even worse.
He said, “The condition of parking management should be the main focus because it is one of the alternative solutions to the complexity of traffic congestion problems, in addition to the focus of public transportation and public road infrastructure.”
The senior RSTA official said, “Widening the road and creating more parking spaces is not the solution to address the issue. Even if we provide as many parking as possible, the parking issue shall still prevail and for how long shall we widen the road and create parking space. The only solution should be managing the traffic by improving public transportation, restricting ownership of vehicles and imposing high parking and congestion charges.”
Thromde says two-way roads is a solution
Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said, “While acknowledging that the parking problem in core area is uncompromising, we can assure that the two multi level car parking at Phanday Lam and Norzin Lam will address the parking problem. But at the same time, in order to facilitate free traffic flow, thromde is planning to make all the roads two-way traffic that would allow vehicles to travel in both directions. With the two-way traffic, there shall be no congestion.”
With regard to Norzin Lam he said, “The vehicle operators shall be allowed to park their car for 15 minutes with signal light on but not more”.
The Thrompon said, “In order to reduce congestion in core area, thromde has started work to develop south and north Thimphu by providing facilities like vegetable markets, meat shops, petrol pump, children’s park, shopping centers, restaurants and many more. When we have all these facilities, many would not come to core town areas and those who do have to park their cars in MLCP or walk; our main focus is to make traffic flow free of congestion.”
In addition, he said, “As per building rule, private land owners are supposed to provide sufficient parking space for its residents but most of the land owners do not follow this rule because of which most drivers park their vehicles where there is empty space and mostly along the roadside. Now Thromde will ensure that every building owner follows building rules.”
A thromde official said, “Thromde has presently about 2,000 parking spaces at various locations like Tashichhodzong, Changlingmithang, Lungtenzampa School, Changlam and Hongkong Market. Thromde shall also construct new parking space at different locations but the spot is not identified yet.”
Norzin Lam shopkeepers
Shop owners are not happy with these 15 minutes parking rules as it will adversely affect their business. Badum, 42, a shopkeeper said “If parking is removed, there will be no one to buy the goods and if there is no one to buy, then we will face a lot of trouble”.
Another shopkeeper Tashi Mo, 40 of Karsel Stores, Electronic and Musical Instrument and Office Stationeries said, “My shop deals with a lot of heavy items like fridges, television, washing machines and guitars. It is already heavy to transfer them from the car to the shop. So now if the parking is far, I have to hire people to carry the goods from a far place to my shop. Moreover, if I open delivery service for my customers, that will be another cost. Should I be in the shop selling or delivering the goods to my customers? Hiring employees to do so would only add to the expenses. Also I recently received a letter saying the rent of the building will have a 10 per cent increase.”
A 34-year-old businessman alternatively said, “Honestly I don’t think this policy will take place. This policy has always been there even back in around 2014 but the shopkeepers came together and refused. Also this time we will request higher authority after the 2018 elections.”
Bhutan has over 92 thousand registered vehicles and about 7,700 vehicles are added in a year.
According to the Annual Information communication and transport Statistics 2018, vehicle numbers have increased from 67,926 in 2013 to 94,956 as of April 2018.
51.9 per cent of total vehicles are registered under Thimphu region (Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Wangdue, Punakha and Gasa).
Thimphu region houses 49,666 vehicles up from 43, 652 vehicles in 2016 and 36,130 vehicles in 2013. Of the total of the Thimphu region 14, 899 vehicles are registered in Thimphu Dzongkhag and about 1,200 new vehicles enter Thimphu Thromde’s streets every year. While 32,874 vehicles are registered under Phuentsholing region including Chukha and Samtse, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar region have 6,043 and 5,061 vehicles registered respectively.
According to the official from the Traffic Division, RBP, traffic is congested only during peak hours from 7:30am-9:30am and 3:30pm-5: 30pm and for short periods of time, otherwise there is a good flow of traffic and is manageable.