Bus is primary mode of transportation in Nepal. Geographically, most of the country is covered with hills and mountains. This makes other means of transportation very difficult. Indeed, this might be quite strange for outsiders that Nepal doesn’t have rail network.
I needed to travel from Kathmandu to Baglung. I have to book ticket, and for that there is no way but have to go to Bus Park ticket counter. No, travel agencies don’t sell bus tickets except if it is tourist bus, which is luxurious and bit costlier than normal ones.
In the morning, after an hour of travel on local bus (which always faces traffic jam in the valley) I reach ticket counter. There are four guys selling tickets. I book a ticket, and reconfirm my seat number and bus details.
I pack my bag and go to Bus Park in the evening. I try to board in the bus. I see another guy sitting on my seat. I ask him if he has ticket. He says he has, I reluctantly request him to show his ticket. That’s right. He has ticket. I recheck my ticket. Damn, two tickets were issued for same seat. Bus is full by now, those who didn’t buy tickets were standing on the passage. I tell the bus helper either to arrange seat or to refund my ticket money. He looks helpless, and tells me to adjust in packed bus. I travel adjusting whole night without sleep, furious in everything I see. I feel something is quite not right about this whole thing.
After few days, I plan to travel back to valley. This time I book on bigger bus, hoping this might be better with folding seat where I could actually fall asleep. Luckily, I get a seat. But this bus also had same problem that many passengers had to suffer, multiple tickets for same seat.
There are many other problems our primary mode of transportation has, making millions of traveller’s life worse. Booking ticket itself is difficult that only specified counter sell tickets. The fact that many people travel without ticket shows that getting ticket is ridiculously uneasy. Most of the time, buses are either over packed or almost empty. In case of former, many passengers travel by standing or sitting on passage even in long routes. Since passengers don’t have tickets booked, they charge whatever amount the want. When I see people travelling in horrible situation even after paying money, little bit of humanity dies in me every time.
That bus nightmare actually made me think how we could solve the problem millions of Nepalese face everyday. Is there any solution to problems we described? I don’t know, but I propose one below.
Better bus ticketing system: electronic booking
Electronic booking system, where people can book bus tickets on their computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. All they need is Internet connection. This might sound like crazy idea for most of the Nepalese who know nothing more than Facebook, I think this is most convenient and advanced way of solving above problems.
How does it work?
Basically, passengers can go to for eg. http://nepalbus.com and enter their details (i.e name, place, destination etc). It will show the ticket price. Passengers pay the ticket money via bank account, debit card, credit cards, online transfers etc. Even though many people might not have all those payment methods, a nearby travel agent can easily provide that facility.
Wherever a passenger books from, all the data is stored centrally. So there is no chance of repeated booking unlike doing it manually in current system. For example, if a passenger books a ticket in Pokhara with seat no. A1 on bus ABC, same information will be stored in central server and that information will be available everywhere immediately. So whenever someone in Kathmandu tries to book on bus ABC, seat no. A1 will be shown as taken and it can’t be booked anymore.
While most of advantages of electronic booking are apparent, I document some of them below.
1. Booking bus ticket from home.
With electronic booking, I don’t have to travel hours in jam packed traffic to get my ticket. I can book from convenience of my home using my electronic device. This also enables me to do advance booking to get desired seat and bus.
On the larger note, this would enable easier access to tickets that they would not travel without ticket.
2. No multiple tickets for single seat
Machines are so good at it that the multiple ticket for same seat issue can be virtually wiped out. As I explained before that since all the data is stored centrally and every information is updated instantly everywhere that there is no possibility of multiple tickets being issued. Book ticket, travel in peace.
3. Better occupancy management
When I was travelling to Baglung, our bus was totally pack, there was no space even on passage while second bus was almost empty. If people had information that second bus had empty seats, they would book for that one.
The other issue is, when a bus ABC travels from Baglung to Kathmandu, there are passengers who booked up to Pokhara. Say if 10 people booked ticket for Pokhara, there are no ways to know in current system that how many seats are available from Pokhara.
In electronic system, it would clearly show that 10 seats are available and can be booked. Better occupancy.
4. Efficiency and cost effective
Electronic booking can be very fast and fact that I don’t have to go to bus counter makes it no brainer. It is also better to reduce human manual errors.
And since people can book tickets themselves, this can be huge cost reduction to bus operators.
5. Better travel planning
When I visit Europe, I do all the travel planning at least two weeks in advance. Why? Because I can book ticket online, get all the route information, the time it takes, costs and any modes of transportation etc.
When I landed in Kathmandu, I had no idea where I could go and where I couldn’t on my limited holidays. There is no way to know route information, timing, costs etc unless I go to counter or call my old friends who travel frequently in any specified route. And we brag about being tourist friendly country?
All in all, I think this can be really good solution. The whole write up is solely based on my experience. It’s really difficult to get actual data about the issues I mentioned above. After some more time, I plan to add challenges to implement such systems in present context in Nepal. Please feel free to comment, correct and brainstorm.