In the past week, daily travellers passing Rajagiriya on their commute to work experienced a new phenomena as a trial priority lane for public transport buses was introduced by the Minister of Megapolis and Western Development.
Buses on the route were given priority over private vehicles in a one kilometer stretch spanning Welikada junction to Ayurveda junction during the trial period.
While the move earned the ire of the public during its inception however, it went on to be praised as various issues were tackled and resolved by the authorities.
Though the trial has now ended, according to authorities it has made way for future long term implementation of the proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. While the BRT system is expected to revolutionize the public transport system of Sri Lanka as well as become a definite solution for traffic congestion within the city of Colombo, the Sunday Observer spoke to several stakeholders of the trial project to shed light on lessons learnt, criticisms earned and future plans for the development of transport in Sri Lanka.
BRT will be introduced within three years - Minister of Megapolis and Western Development, Patali Champika Ranawaka
|Pics by Rukmal Gamage|
Q: What was the aim of implementing a trial priority bus lane in Rajagiriya?
A: The recently introduced trial bus priority lane for public passenger services was in fact a bid to introduce a solution to ease traffic congestion in the Colombo city. It was a new experience for government agencies, the police, bus owners as well as commuters.
During the trial we wanted to collect data such as, the speed of buses, effect on private vehicles and other issues if such a lane is implemented. We ran a computer model gaining practical data. With public responding positively the agencies involved will have further discussions about lessons learnt and see how we can extend the trial at a later date. Utilizing this we will ensure the public transport sector is optimized and developed within the next three years.
Q: Were the criticisms levelled against the implementing agencies unfounded?
A: It must be understood that when new concepts are being introduced to a country these incidents can occur. It was something we informed the public of before the trial commenced. However, labelling the move as useless, claiming that traffic has doubled was a very unbalanced view as many issues were rectified immediately.
Public is also responsible. If other vehicles travel on the bus lane despite it being marked clearly this will in turn cause chaos which the public is responsible for.
The Road Development Authority, the Police and experts supported the trial in every way possible to make it a success. No good thing has happened in the country without being attacked and criticized due to negative attitudes.
The government’s responsibility should be to the majority of the commuters. Therefore, despite all the criticisms we have to face we will take necessary steps to develop the public transport sector in the country. That is the only solution for the current situation.
Q: What is in store for the future transport sector of the country?
A: BRT I believe is the way forward. Depending on the success of trials conducted the system will be implemented within three years along with many programs to improve road discipline.
Experts from South Korea are supporting us to design the BRT system to better suit our roadways. There are technical concerns which are being addressed now. One of the major difficulties the Ministry has to face is that the buses have not been modernized and updated according to the times. The current situation is one that existed as far back as the 1970s. Therefore, this must change along with infrastructure improvements.
We also plan to introduce Light Rail Transit (LRT) Systems. Seven corridors have been identified to implement the LRT. JICA are currently doing feasibility tests with designing, consultations and physical construction.
Trial proves lane discipline is paramount - DIG Traffic Administration and Road Safety, Palitha Fernando
Q: What was the main observation of the Police during the trial?
A: The main observation of both, public and Police was that traffic congestion can be reduced to a large extent if drivers adhere to lane discipline. Despite our efforts public continue to flout lane discipline laws. However, during the trial it had to be strictly adhered to which saw the gradual decrease of traffic congestion.
It was in fact due to the strict adherence to lane discipline that we were able to successfully carry out the trial priority bus lane. This goes on to show that even if a bus lane is not present if one sticks to the correct lane traffic can be avoided.
Q: Did the Police face any difficulties during implementation?
A: We deployed around 50 - 60 traffic policemen for the one kilometer stretch bringing in officers from various divisions such as, Rajagiriya, Nugegoda, Mount Lavinia and Colombo.
However, the Police are unable to do this on a daily basis to ensure the public adhere to lane discipline and give priority to public transport. Public should therefore inculcate a sense of self discipline without us having to Police them along the way. Today, many drivers lack discipline and is a major issue which has given rise to the various problems on the country’s roads. If people were disciplined we would not have needed this many officers during the trial, as the bus lane was marked clearly and the public was informed beforehand.
Q: What in your opinion, were the positive outcomes of the project?
A: Accidents were less during the trial period while drivers did follow road rules. The Police too did not have to charge drivers due to this reason. According to the responses the people, including those using private transport were able to arrive at their offices early. I believe, if the bus priority lane could be implemented through a BRT system, it will resolve most of the issues caused by traffic congestion today.-
Upto one minute saved during trial - Senior Professor, Department of Transport and Logistics Management, University of Moratuwa, Prof. Amal Kumarage
Q: What caused the chaos experienced on the first day?
A: Any plan previously made cannot be faultless as it will depend on various factors such as the behaviour of the people, control by the Police and driver discipline. If perfect plans can be made then we have no need of a trial.
On the first day, we must admit, in the first few hours all vehicles travelled at a very slow speed with traffic congestion increasing with time. Bus priority was almost impossible on the day with other vehicles using the bus lane. Things improved later as we identified the problems and did the needful. Negative attitudes of commuters changed at the end of the trial.
Q: Did commuters save time during the trial period?
A: After many issues were addressed following the chaos of the first day and the bus priority lane functioning correctly our data concluded that buses saved between 30 seconds to one minute by using the bus priority lane. While this may not seem much, if one minute can be saved in a kilometer stretch then if this was implemented from Battaramulla to Fort, we can deduce that around 20 minutes can be saved by a commuter daily.
Q: How suitable is the proposed BRT system for Sri Lanka?
A: The BRT system has proved successful in many countries that had similar transport systems as Sri Lanka. BRT is not just suitable but in fact ideal for the country with the current state of the public transport service. However, many improvements need to be introduced to the public transport service along with the implementation of the BRT to ease traffic congestion and attract the people to use public transport. All this can be changed and the outlook is positive for Sri Lanka’s transport sector.
Bus lane beneficial for bus operators - General Secretary, All Ceylon Private Bus Association, Anjana Priyanjith
Q: Did bus operators benefit from the trial?
A: We benefitted immensely in several ways. Despite initial snags which were later resolved by the Police, time was saved due to the priority lane while competition between buses reduced. This led to lesser accidents as well as fines imposed by the Police as bus drivers adhered to road rules.
Q: Will bus operators support the proposed BRT system?
A: A lane dedicated to buses is in fact the need of the hour. This can greatly improve the public transport system. We lose almost 12 per cent of passengers annually due to service issues but the BRT system can put a stop to that as we are able to reach our destinations in a fast and safe manner. We consider the proposed system as extremely beneficial and as a solution to uplift the crumbling public bus transport system in Sri Lanka.