Bhutan Bans Driving On World Environment Day

Jun 4th, 2012 | By | Category: Bhutan, Capacity Development, Environment, Government Policies, News, Pollution, Resilience, Urbanization

Fox News and KuenselOnline: Tuesdays in the small Himalayan nation of Bhutan will become “Pedestrians’ Day” after the country’s cabinet approved a one-day-a-week ban on driving in town centers during business hours, the Kuensel newspaper reported Friday. “Tuesdays will be a day when Bhutanese citizens would seize the opportunity to contemplate the fragile nature of our precious Himalayan mountain ecology and make a small contribution,” the cabinet said in a statement.

“This will also be a day Bhutanese all over will walk for their health and promote [the] joy of walking, together with friends, family and colleagues, and thereby promote interaction and community vitality,” it added.The decision means that driving will be banned in town centers on Tuesdays between 8:00am local time and 6:00pm local time.

Electric and hybrid vehicles will still be allowed to use the roads, as will emergency vehicles such as ambulances and police cars.Bhutan has a population of only 700,000 people. It is known around the world for its promotion of Gross National Happiness as a measure of the country’s development. “Pedestrian’s Day” will begin in Bhutan on June 5, coinciding with World Environment Day.


The Time Has Come To Really Walk The Talk

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Pedestrian’s Day: Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley yesterday issued an executive order, reiterating the cabinet’s decision to observe all Tuesdays, starting June 5, as Pedestrians’ Day throughout the country. The order comes more than four years after the agriculture minister initiated a similar program to observe every Tuesday as ‘no vehicle day’, called “Helping our environment, health and economy (HEHE).

HEHE however took a walk into oblivion, even though its fever had spread to Sarpang a month later, and a few months later, the walkers were back in their cars.

But in three days, coinciding with World Environment Day, a similar plan will be implemented across the country, where vehicular traffic will be frozen in the core city area, which runs about eight kilometres.  Only service vehicles, such as ambulances, fire brigades, armed force vehicles, buses, taxis  (odd and even number once a month), and bicycles will be plying the city roads.

This time, five agencies – National Environment Commission Secretariat, the Thimphu City Corporation, Road Safety and Transport Authority, Thimphu Traffic Division, and Bhutan Post are working together to implement Pedestrians’ Day in Bhutan.

Which is why the agencies are optimistic that the initiative, which was decided with speed, and announced within a day, would walk. The Thimphu traffic division, which was aware about the plan to reduce emission and manage traffic congestion, but not about the “second HEHE”, drew out the traffic route for the capital in less than a day.The traffic division has identified eight parking areas, bordering the core city area, for vehicles plying into the city to park. (see route map)

“City buses and taxis would be available in these parkings from 8am to 6pm every Tuesday,” Traffic SP Major Passang Dorji said. Commuters could ride to their destinations in public transport, if they do not wish to walk. Taxis would be available in places where city buses don’t ply and, on June 5, taxis with even number (last digit) would be allowed to ply.  Officials also said that schools should provide buses to pick and drop their students.

However, Bhutan Post has already made it clear that they would not be in a position to increase the frequency for their 19 buses, nor the nine routes the buses ply on today. But even as some office-goers and parents question the “suddenness” of the decision, the five agencies said on national television last evening that the implementation of pedestrians’ day is timely.

“Observing a pedestrians’ day may sound abrupt to the people, but not to the agencies involved,” national environment commission’s senior program officer Karma Tshering said. The Thimphu thrompon Kinley Dorji said this initiative starts off the system of mass transit in the capital, and people will get used to travelling by buses.  About 35,000 cars are expected not to be plying the city roads on Tuesdays, road safety and transport authority estimates.

They also said that the HEHE walk failed because it was done by a sole agency, without much awareness or involvement of relevant agencies.  What observers however said is that even the pedestrians’ day did not have much awareness until a few days ago. Meanwhile, the initiative has received mixed response from Thimphu residents.  A corporate employee, who lives near a bus stop, as well as works near another bus stop, said she is happy with the decision to use public transport. “I can save a lot on fuel, and I think it gives Bhutan Post a chance to make city buses more efficient,” she said.

A retired official said that it’s a very good idea, but “terrible” for those like him. who have back problems; while another civil servants feels that it would meet with the same fate of HEHE. “I don’t have much hope,” said one. Parents of school-going children, who need to drop and pick them up before 6pm, and feeding mothers are also not very happy with the decision.

“Vehicles are allowed to ply up to some point, so I see no purpose of calling it a pedestrian day,” said a father of two. “I might have to take a day off on Tuesdays, to drop and pick my children from school.” Another civil servant suggested that Tuesdays might as well be made a government holiday, instead of Sundays. Representatives from the five agencies said they are discussing on coming to an understanding to keep Tuesdays “light”, and not hold important events, like meetings.  The cabinet, however, meets every Tuesday.

Thrompon Kinley Dorji said they are planning to collect garbage on Sundays, instead of Tuesdays, and give the day off for garbage truck drivers. “There may be some problems in the beginning, but it won’t be very stringent,” the officials said. “It would be a gradual process.”

By Sonam Pelden




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