Transportation entrepreneurs resumed the discontinued night bus service in the capital from October 8 at the request of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) office.
Hundreds of late commuters, who were either forced to walk home or pay hefty taxi fares to reach their destinations have benefitted from the resumed night bus service. It has rejuvenated hopes of more night life in the metropolis.
However, as the transportation entrepreneurs have started the night bus service on their own–without seeking financial support from the government as in the past — it is uncertain how sustainable the service will be, according to stakeholders.
KMC first launched a night bus service in August 2012 on the major routes of the capital city, in collaboration with the National Federation of Nepal Transport Entrepreneurs (NFNTE).
NFNTE operated 14 buses on various routes in Kathmandu and Lalitpur for almost a year. But after KMC discontinued its financial support after six months and the Department of Transport Management could not settle the fare issue, the entrepreneurs closed down the service. KMC had provided a subsidy of Rs. 4.5 million to the entrepreneurs.
The entrepreneurs said that they were forced to halt the facility as they could not cover operating costs without a substantial government subsidy.
Experts fear the resumed night bus service will meet a similar fate if the government does not cough up substantial subsidies to cover operational costs.
Dharma Raj Rimal, Bagmati coordinator of NFNTE, said the entrepreneurs are operating six night buses for the next three months in a first phase. “We are ready to provide the service. But we cannot operate at a loss for too long. The government should subsidize us directly or indirectly if the service is to be viable in the long run,” he said.
“We will wait and see for the next three months. We are ready to operate the buses if the operational costs are covered in some way,” said Rimal.
Ashish Gajurel, a public transportation expert, says as the number of passengers commuting late is comparatively low, the entrepreneurs are unlikely to benefit. They may not feel encouraged to continue the service for long. So, the government should step in and subsidize them in some way. “In most countries, the government provides such subsidies,” he added.
KMC officials said a steering committee has been formed comprising representatives of the Department of Transport Management and others to make a comprehensive study of the night bus service and find ways to make it sustainable. “We do not want the night bus service to meet the same fate again. We will decide how it can be subsidized,” said Dhanapati Sapkota, chief of Implementation Department in KMC.
The night buses are operating from 7 pm to 11 pm.
NFNTE has asked KMC to pay the bus staff salaries and increase fares by 35 percent. Likewise, they have also demanded discounts on taxes on night buses. NENTE wants to import 30 42-seater buses for the night service in the capital.