A tussle to create jam free roads
Traffic jams! K-town dwellers are truly saturated with this phenomenon and it’s almost correct to assume that they don’t care anymore. The ship of nagging, complaining and hoping for a clearer street has sailed. However, the presence of Shekhar Chandra Rai, better known as Mr. Ravi Rai has always made me feel that I can still make it to my destination on time. He is not traffic personnel by profession nor is he carrying out a specific assignment to help clear the seemingly awful traffic jams in and around the streets of Kathmandu. He is just another layman like you and I. The only difference between him and us is precisely his decision to take a different path, unrestricted and unrestrained by anything or anyone. He is a volunteer working with traffic personnel during peak hours.
Rai has been controlling the traffic over four consecutive years, and still continues to devote six to seven hours of his time every day to the busy streets. Does he get paid? He certainly does not. It is Rai’s desire to create less congested roads that keep him coming back to the traffic hot spots of Thapathali, Gaushala, Chabahil, New Baneshwor, and possibly anywhere there is a jam. In addition to alleviating jams, Rai hopes to encourage respect for traffic rules among restless and undisciplined local bus drivers, micro and tempo drivers and pedestrians alike, should they not abide the law.
On a personal note, his work requires him to be strong and perseverant. But despite the hectic rush of controlling the daily traffic Mr. Rai remains an equally joyful person in his every day life. Manjil Shrestha had a tete-a-tete with Mr. Rai and shares with you the joys he has had over the years as a self-motivated traffic controller.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in 2029 B.S. in Beldangi, Jhoda of Jhapa district. I came to Kathmandu in 2053 B.S. in the search of better job opportunities and opened a lodge in Gaushala. I have a joint family of 20 members. And it’s been almost half a decade since I started volunteering as a traffic controller.
How did you get inspired to volunteer as a traffic jam controller?
I run a hotel in Gaushala. Being one of those parts of the Ring Road that is densely overloaded with big buses, trucks and micros, traffic jams had always been a sad thing to see while working in my hotel. The frustrated honking, hyper tensed faces of the drivers and the despair of a solitary traffic policeman trying to control the difficult scenario, really made me contemplate the situation a lot. I guess that inspired me to volunteer in the first place. I initially participated in a Traffic Awareness Program and, as time passed, I started to enjoy what I did. It became a part of who I am today.
How many hours do you volunteer in a day?
Usually 6 to 7 hours a day, depending on the traffic jam. Normal jams can be cleared in less than two hours but traffic in Thapathali can take as long as 3 hours to clear.
The roads have been widened in a lot of busy places, and yet that hasn’t been able to reduce the traffic jams. What’s your say on that?
I don’t think wider roads will make a difference until a positive attitude towards traffic rules is shown by all drivers as well as pedestrians. The new spaces will only be neutralizing the pressure of new vehicles on the road. The traffic jams will still be the same.
The bus, micro and tempo drivers and also pedestrians seem to be agitated by your presence. Does that bother you?
I really don’t care what they think about me. But I do want my presence to pinch the soul of all the careless, sly, misbehaved and disobedient drivers and pedestrians. I am contributing to society as an unpaid volunteer. They should realize that fact and appreciate it. I may appear harsh and mean to them but that’s how I must be for a better result and their own safety.
Is there a remark that you remember in particular that someone made to you while you were volunteering on a busy street?
(Smiles) I get a lot of that but one incident which moved me was when I was volunteering in Maitidevi Chowk three years ago. Some young college boys looked at me and I overheard them saying, ‘Who is this guy? Why is he here? Why is there always a Jam when he is there?’ But I took this remark positively. People were acknowledging my presence and my being there made sure that drivers did not stop in an undesignated place. And, I would like to add (chuckling) that it’s not my presence that causes the Jam. I am there because there is one.
What does the traffic system of Kathmandu lack?
A lot of things, actually – traffic lights aren’t much use during peak hours. Many times when we manually manage the busy traffic light areas, we have to violate the rules of the traffic light and regulate the flow of traffic based on the situation and time. The penalty charges for local transportation stopping and picking up passengers at the wrong spots must be properly implemented. Even today, a driver will pull over at the wrong spot, take as many passengers, bargain with the traffic police, disturb an entire lane for about ten minutes, pay the penalty of Rs.60 and still be on a profit. The cunning drivers pass through the same road dozens of times. They know the psyche of every traffic person in charge there. They know who is strict and who is liberal. Also, the pedestrians must abide by the traffic rules. It’s for their safety.
What can make the traffic flow more relaxed and easy?
Overhead Bridges on the busy intersection of Thapathali, New Baneshwor, Chabahil and Maharajgunj could be a good step to begin with. Small micro buses shouldn’t be added to the existing number and instead mini buses that can carry more passengers must be given priority. Bottle neck road structures should be widened for a better traffic flow on peak hours. Traffic personnel must be stricter. An irrational habit of charging motorbikes with Rs. 200 penalty and micro buses with Rs.60 for stopping on the wrong place must be stopped.
Do you still want to continue volunteering?
Managing traffic during peak hours has become an addiction for me. It gives me pleasure and complete satisfaction. That’s where I find happiness now. The moments I feel true satisfaction in what I am doing is when I see systematic traffic flow with no obstructions. That’s actually all I have ever wanted to get from volunteering. It will be a long time before I retire from this.
How has your personal life been affected by your volunteering service?
The drawbacks and negative impacts of every action can always be minimized by perceiving it in a positive way. Had I not been volunteering, I would have more time for my joint family of 18 members and my hotel business. I could have earned some more money in these four and a half years. But I wouldn’t be as satisfied as I am today. And with the support I get from my family, I think I have been able to balance everything that I am doing. I once went to Banepa to attend Barha Barse Mela (a twelve year festival) where there was a tremendous jam. I came out of the bus and started easing the traffic and got us through along with all the others in the queue. I still remember the faces of my family members then. They were proud of what I did.
Any embarrassing moments?
Believe me, it is an awkward moment to be offered money or presents when you are volunteering for a social cause just for personal satisfaction. Once a man on a motorbike came to me in Gaushala chowk and tried to give me some money as a note of appreciation and also a foreigner who did the same when I helped him steer out of busy traffic. I felt embarrassed and uneasy about it.
Do you have any words of advice for the readers or should I say the riders?
Speeding and overtaking will not make you reach your destination any faster. The vehicles that you have left behind will surely catch up with you in the jam at the next stop. Therefore, I request people to be considerate of fellow drivers, and abide by traffic rules. And if you are a pedestrian, respect the presence of a traffic person who is there for your safety. Yes, they may seem mean and tense but standing under the scorching sun and whistling back to all the horns and managing the jam is quite an arduous task, which people do not always realise.