Abhishek Shahi, 26, is blind. He relied on public transport to get around Kathmandu, but his bitter experience with public transport discouraged him.
Shahi goes to TU’s Social Work Faculty from Lanchaur to Kirtipur every day. Among the unpleasant experiences he had on his daily commute, he recalls a particular incident from his 2014.
The experience shook him and he vowed never to take a public bus again.
It was around eight o’clock in the morning, and Shahi was on a local bus from the Plano Bus Park. The bus was crowded and he didn’t know where he had arrived. “So I had to ask the conductor often,” he said. Then one day, the conductor hurriedly stopped the bus and let him off. “After a while I realized I was in the wrong place, but I didn’t know exactly where.”
Shahi called his father who found him by following the route of the bus Shahi took. “I haven’t taken public transport since,” he said.
More than a decade after that night, many people with disabilities like Shahi continue to face hurdles and unpleasant experiences when using public transport to navigate the city.
“We have to compromise and compromise with fewer reserved seats in official cars,” said 23-year-old blind Ujjwal Sagar, an aspiring musician. “Here in Kathmandu, we might get seats.
According to him, bus conductors often refuse discounts on the disability card he carries. “I used to travel by bus from Dhahran to Virtamod. It takes about 3 hours. I was supposed to get a 50% discount, but I was charged the full 250 rupees.”
Public transport is the vein of a thriving city. It must be able to accommodate all passengers, especially those with special needs such as the disabled, the elderly, pregnant women and infants. But most public vehicles to and from the Valley don’t cater to target groups.
A high-quality, reliable and safe transport system is an engine of growth, including for people with disabilities. However, the lack of disability-friendly infrastructure and general attitudes towards passengers with disabilities highlight another problem plaguing public transport in Nepal.
“I use public transport only as a last resort,” Shahi said. “It’s purpose is not just to move and drop people like objects. If you pay for a service, you expect it to be safe. I want to travel separately, safely and comfortably.” I think.”
Section 107 of the Vehicle Transport Act 1993 mandates reserved seating for disabled persons, women and the elderly. But official cars often ignore that rule. For example, according to Kathmandu Valley Traffic Police Department spokesperson Rajendra Prasad His Bhatta, in the 2021-22 fiscal year, as many as 922 public vehicles were detained for violating the assigned seating rules.
“We monitor public vehicles daily at at least 30 to 35 junctions throughout the valley and have received numerous complaints about violations of assigned seating rules,” said Bhatta. “We will take appropriate action, but what worries me is the ethical crisis plaguing our city.”
In Nepal, people with disabilities face many obstacles every day and have to endure personal, social and economic setbacks. But with the right set of infrastructure, you don’t have to. For example, transport services can ease their plight by facilitating access to education, health care, jobs, and more.
Zealation Shah is 46 years old. He lives with a disability due to the paralysis of his right leg due to polio. Shah, who now lives in Adelaide, Australia, says public indifference towards people with disabilities is also causing rules and policies aimed at target groups to be ineffective.
“Many young people in Nepal are kind and willing to offer seats to those with disabilities or in need,” Shah told the Post by phone. “But I have also traveled with people who are reluctant to help their fellow passengers in need. “
Shah compares Kathmandu and Adelaide in terms of public transport systems and inclusiveness or lack thereof. “Adelaide is a livable city for someone with a disability like me. We have access to universities, schools, sidewalks, transport and even cemeteries,” he said. “Australia has addressed mobility constraints in many aspects of urban development, making it easier for people with disabilities to travel and commute. It’s a nightmare for
Co-operative bus company Sajha Yatayat debuted and touted its disabled-friendly buses in 2018. But even these highly touted buses fail to meet their promised disability accommodation.
According to Sajha Yatayat board member Bhushan Tuladhar, three low-floor electric buses are currently in operation. “These buses are designed to be more accessible for wheelchair users compared to stilt buses that have three steps. [1m above the ground]”But the city’s infrastructure is not disabled-friendly, so these vehicles are not being used optimally.”
Merely having disability-friendly vehicles and assigned seats for disabled people won’t make the commuting experience easier for people with disabilities, says city planner Kishore Thapa. “To create a disability-friendly transportation system, we need disability-friendly bus stops, terminals and even vehicles,” he said. “More than that, it takes empathy to really understand the needs of people with disabilities.”
Mobility restrictions for people with disabilities are ubiquitous as most vehicles traversing city streets are not designed to be inclusive.
“Modifying current vehicles to meet the needs of people with disabilities is a huge financial burden. Accessibility must be built into the design of public transport projects from the beginning,” said Tuladhar. .
According to the 2011 census, there are 5,13,321 people with disabilities in Nepal. There is a lack of up-to-date, reliable and disaggregated government statistics on transportation for people with disabilities and those with disabilities. This may be due to the reluctance of families with disabilities to register as disabled for fear of social stigma, according to the Nepal National Federation of Disabled Persons.
“You can’t change the public transport narrative if you only have a few people in mind. This change should not just be for people with disabilities,” said Shahi. “We need to take care of vulnerable passengers, such as mothers with babies, the elderly, and people with temporary disabilities. It is our collective responsibility to make transportation accessible to all.”
Shahi adds that the goal of a disability-friendly transportation system goes beyond allocating a small number of seats. In addition, traffic police reports provide statistical evidence that people are violating the rules. The aforementioned figures refer mainly to large public vehicles. Information is not yet available for smaller transport vehicles such as tricycles and minibuses.
“Seat allocation is important, but it has become just a rule that no one follows,” Shah said. “Government efforts to create accessible transport are severely limited to the seating capacity of a few large buses.
Shahi said he was asked to prove his disability while traveling on a public bus in Nepal and the conductor refused to accept his discount card. “I was dropped off in the wrong place. At the center of all these unpleasant experiences were the public, from bus drivers to conductors to passengers,” he said.
State intervention is essential to promote disability-friendly transport chains, says city planner Suman Meher Shrestha. “States need to invest in proper physical infrastructure and institutional regulation,” he said. “But the state has systematically failed on all these fronts, from policy making to financial planning.”
Shahi called for raising awareness at all levels for disabled people to enjoy their right to travel comfortably on city buses. “If you’re going to change the system for only some people, there’s no meaningful change,” he said. “Public transport needs to change for everyone.”