For Ashok Gautam, a late-night commuter who earlier had to pay a hefty taxi fare to get home, the night bus service in the capital has come as a huge relief.
Even at 9: 30 p.m, he gets can get a public bus easily enough and reaches home for just Rs 20.
“The service has helped me save a lot. And more importantly, the night bus offers a safe ride even late at night,” said Gautam, a student who works as a salesman at Sundhara to support his education. He goes from Sundhara to Koteshwor by night bus every day.
Hundreds of late commuters like Gautam, who were earlier either forced to walk or pay hefty taxi fares to reach their destinations, have benefited from the night bus.
But the commuters now have to start worrying again. Transportation entrepreneurs have threatened to bring the service to a halt if the government does not subsidize it to cover operational costs.
At the request of Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) office, they had resumed the night bus service at their own expense on major routes in the capital from October 8, 2014.
“But we have been incurring big losses and can no longer continue in this fashion. Now, it is up to the government whether the service would continue or not,” said Dharma Raj Rimal, Bagmati Zone coordinator of the National Federation of Nepal Transport Entrepreneurs (NFNTE).
According to him, NFNTE had informed KMC that the federation would operate the buses at their own expense for the next three months and after that KMC would have to cover the operational expenses in some way.
“But the government is mute about this, and so we have made up our mind to shut down the service,” he added.
Currently, six night buses are in operation on different routes in the capital. While two buses pile the Ring Road, four others ply the Satdobato-Ratnapark, Bhaktapur-Koteshwor-Ratnapark, Jorpati-Ratnapark and Kalanki-Ratnapark routes.
A night bus operated jointly by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City and transport entrepreneurs in this 2012 photo.(Republica Files)
The night buses are responsive to the needs of the passengers. The drivers wait extra time if a passenger calls to say he is on his way to the bus stop. The buses operate from 9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
KMC had first launched a night bus service in August 2012 on major city routes, in collaboration with NFNTE.
NFNTE operated 14 buses on various routes in Kathmandu and Lalitpur for almost a year. But when KMC discontinued its financial support after six months and the Department of Transport Management could not settle the fare issue, the transport entrepreneurs closed down the service. KMC had provided a subsidy of Rs. 4.5 million per year.
The entrepreneurs said that without a substantial government subsidy they are forced to close.
Stakeholders now fear that the resumed night bus service will meet a similar fate if the government does not cough up sufficient subsidies to cover operational costs.
KMC is yet to come up with a plan to operate the service long-term.
Mukunda Raj Satyal, a public transportation expert, said that the government should step in with a subsidy in some way. “In most countries, governments provide such subsidies,” he added. –