The idea behind sustainable transportation is to create an effective and efficient transportation system that ensures efficient mobility, affordability and reduced environmental impacts of the system. However, the growing nature of transportation needs and its dependence on fossil fuel amid the dangers of climate change make the present transportation system truly unsustainable, and it is high time we transformed it into something sustainable.
Cut down on pollution
Thus, the urgency to cut down on the emission of carbon dioxide - one of the greenhouse gases - by 50-80 per cent until 2050 has also brought the idea of sustainable transportation into limelight because the present transportation system of the world is based on fossil fuel and is solely responsible for 20 - 25 per cent of the world’s energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.
Attempts have been made, both by citizens and governments, in different parts of the world to make the transition towards sustainable transportation possible. At the moment, fuel efficient vehicles and a car sharing culture are being used and promoted. Also, private vehicles are being discouraged by imposing heavy taxes on fossil fuels and even on vehicles. A transport system based on a renewable source of energy like solar power or electricity and, most importantly, an efficient public transportation system are advised for the transition.
Guangzhou, a city in south China’s Guangdong province, has transformed into a city with a sustainable transportation system with a world-class Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that integrates cycle lanes and metro stations. It won the 2011 Sustainable Transport Award created by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), which proves that transformation to a sustainable transport system is possible even in big cities.
In this context, the concept of sustainable transportation is an important issue to be discussed in Nepal as well, especially at a time when roads are being widened in the Kathmandu Valley due to growing traffic congestion. Yes, it’s true that Nepal’s contribution to the global carbon emission is negligible (0.025 per cent of the world total), but our carbon emission is sure to increase as Nepal enters the much-awaited phase of industrialisation.
Amidst the dire situation that has been presented to the world because of the complexities of climate change and at a time when every country in the world is setting individual targets to reduce its carbon emission following the COP 19 meeting in Warsaw, wouldn’t it be wise on the part of Nepal to think ahead of time and start focusing towards a sustainable transportation system?
In addition, there are other reasons and incentives why we must embark on the journey of a sustainable transportation system. Our dependence on fossil fuel imports and the hue and cry seen in the streets every time the smooth flow of fuel is obstructed are other reasons. It is essential that we decrease our dependence on oil, on which we spent more than a billion dollars in 2010-11. Even a one per cent saving of the amount would help us carry out essential development activities in needy parts of the country. Moreover, decreasing imports of petroleum products - 20% of total imports - would help decrease our trade deficit with India and other countries.
News about corruption and misuse of subsidy, which is often the case with Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), is another reason why we must opt for sustainable transportation. Similarly, the traffic congestion, particularly in Kathmandu, no more makes it an easy city to travel around; a lot of time is wasted in the traffic jams even when we are commuting only a short distance.
Moreover, public transportation, which is a part of sustainable transportation, is not efficient. And it’s even more difficult for women to use public transportation given the news of molestation in the congested and unregulated public buses and mini-buses.
It’s true that transformation to sustainable transportation requires a lot of investment, in terms of both time and money for research and development of technology, and for building the infrastructure required to set up a good public transportation system. Given the poor economic condition of Nepal, transition towards sustainable transportation is even more difficult.
But, there is a way out, which does not require a lot of investment in infrastructure and technological invention – the bicycle. Cycling is something that is affordable for all Nepalese and it, to some extent, can decrease our overdependence on fossil fuels besides cutting down on environmental pollution.
Moreover, it is healthier to cycle. With a little bit of planning and promotion, the way forward could well be the two wheeler rather the other smoky engines. However, I must not be misunderstood to be advocating cycling against other kinds of transportation; applicability is always an important factor.
On the part of the government, it has to make cycling a pleasant and easy experience by building cycling lanes, well demarcated from the roads, which will ensure risk-free cycling. However, the ideal would be to build cycle lanes separated from roads meant for fossil engines. Cycle lanes, a little away from the roads and trees along it can inspire even the non-cyclers to take up cycling for moral, societal, environmental, economic incentives attached to it. Experiences have shown that cycling has increased with the provision of good cycling facilities.
Recently there was news in the media that the under construction Baneswor-Tin Kune road will have 2.5 m wide cycle lanes on both sides. This is indeed great news and, of course, the first and positive step towards the right path. Finally, in the context of Nepal, cycling has to be developed as our first step towards transition to sustainable transportation to ensure greener and more efficient transportation.