BRT system to revolutionize public transport : Priority lane for buses | Sunday Observer

BRT system to revolutionize public transport : Priority lane for buses

In a bid to reduce traffic congestion in the city of Colombo, the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development along with other related agencies will introduce a new bus priority lane commencing today (March 12). Starting as a trial project the priority bus lane stretching for one kilometer from the Rajagiriya junction to the Borella Ayurveda junction will see private and Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) buses being given precedence with a dedicated lane and priority at traffic lights, as well as, pedestrian crossings. While the project will be carried out for a span of seven days, authorities hope a successful trial of the program will eventually lead the way for new concepts such as, the Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT) as well as, the ‘Park and Ride’ concept to be introduced to Sri Lanka, reducing the burden faced by the country’s roadways on a daily basis.

Traffic congestion

The governments of post war Sri Lanka have fast developed the country’s once neglected road systems and infrastructure. With existing roads being newly widened and paved, while new roads and expressways have been built connecting various parts of the island, road travel has today, undeniably become fast and convenient.

However, despite these improvements the vehicular traffic in city areas, especially in major cities such as Colombo and Kandy have increased in recent times. In fact despite the government investing over Rs one trillion between the years 2004 - 2015 in a bid to develop the roadways, and another Rs one trillion being set to be spent on Expressways within the next few years, traffic congestion has increased at an alarming rate prompting the government to seek alternative solutions to the problem.

According to the Minister of Megapolis and Western Development, Patali Champika Ranawaka, the main reasons for the phenomena is the increasing number of private vehicle owners and the decreasing number of public transport passengers. “Today there are over 6.3 million vehicles in Sri Lanka” he said, pointing out that in the Western Province alone 6 million people make 10 million trips on a daily basis contributing to the traffic congestion being experienced. In fact according to the Traffic Police around 510, 000 vehicles enter Colombo city alone, daily.

“If 40 people decide that they would use private vehicles starting tomorrow this takes up the space of 7 - 10 buses on the road” the Minister pointed out adding that this has become a major issue in the transport sector today, with the numbers using public transport decreasing gradually. “In 1980 around 85 per cent of the population used the public transport service as opposed to the mere 50 per cent today” he said, adding that this has resulted in wastage of time in many forms thereby causing a severe strain on the country’s economy.

In fact, according to the Minister, the country loses Rs one billion daily amounting to almost Rs 350 billion annually due to traffic congestion which is far greater than the investment made yearly to improve Sri Lanka’s roadways.

Also, despite the presence of traffic lights, severe congestion in the city requires around 900 policemen to be deployed for traffic duties daily resulting in wasted man hours which could have been better utilized by law enforcement officials.

Therefore, Minister Ranawaka says, identifying the improvement of road systems alone, is insufficient to curb the issue. His Ministry, along with other agencies are currently at discussions to introduce new policies and concepts as alternative solutions to reduce traffic congestion in Colombo.

Alternative solutions

As Prof. Amal Kumarage, a leading expert on transport and logistics who works along with the Road Development Authority points out, road space too must increase along with the rising number of vehicles according to public demand. “But if the demand cannot be met then other methods need to be looked at” he says, adding that therefore options providing a lesser amount of space to be utilized by a large number of people for travel is the need of the hour.

“Therefore, the new trial bus priority lane project comes after much discussion in order to reduce traffic as well as improve the public transport service,” Minister Ranawaka claimed.

Accordingly, starting today, buses will be provided with a dedicated lane for a one kilometer stretch from the Rajagiriya junction to the Borella Ayurveda junction along Cotta Road and Sri Jayawardenepura Mawatha. While a corner bus way has been designed for the task, the trial will last for seven days giving buses priority over private vehicles at traffic lights as well as other junctures, such as pedestrian crossings.

“13 bus routes will take part in this experiment” says Deputy Director, Traffic Management Unit of the Road Development Authority, Dr. Saman J. Widanapathiranage. According to Widanapathiranage steps have been taken to ensure trouble free transits for passengers. “While buses will be given priority, we hope to ensure that travellers in private vehicles will not be inconvenienced either” he said, adding that he hopes the new pilot program will shed light on possible issues in order to resolve them in future implementations.

Way forward

The interest of authorities in identifying possible issues is a valid concern due to the unfortunate failure of the Galle Road priority bus lane which was implemented several years ago, and the lack of public interest in the ‘Park and Ride’ concept. However, according to Prof. Kumarage, nevertheless, implementing a bus priority lane is not only feasible but has proved to solve traffic congestion in many countries across the world.

“This concept not only eased traffic but also improved public transport in countries such as Singapore and South Korea” he pointed out. For example, as Prof. Kumarage presents, around 80 per cent of the population in Singapore resort to public transport today, while Dr. Widanapathiranage says, the system has reduced accidents while improving traffic speed in the implemented cities.

However, according to Kumarage along with bus priority lanes, the public transport system too needs to be overhauled and improved in order for the concept to be a success. He suggests that new and comfortable air conditioned buses should be introduced, along with reliable time tables, e-ticketing services and most importantly, better training for public passenger service providers to ensure that road discipline is looked at.

“All this will be introduced in the near future” Minister Ranawaka has now promised the public.

However, according to both Kumarage and Ranawaka, change in society is needed if many fruitful plans introduced by the government is to be a success and is beneficial to the public. While the public have been reluctant in the past to embrace similar new concepts the Minister is however hopeful the people will realize the benefit of such a system on the society as a whole.

“If this is a success the authorities will look at introducing the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in the future which will revolutionize public transport” the Minister said. While discussions about BRT are on going with it even being scrapped last year due to feasibility issues, according to the Minister, realizing its benefits, the government is once again looking at possibilities of implementing the system in the future.

While the trial hopes to create social awareness in the next seven days authorities hope this will lead to the public understanding and valuing public transport services which in turn will create a social transformation in the transport system of Sri Lanka.