Priority bus lane improves road discipline | Sunday Observer

Priority bus lane improves road discipline

A lane, dedicated to buses alone till recently was an alien concept to Sri Lanka’s transport system. Weaknesses in enforcement and non-adherence of motorists meant that a bus only lane implemented on Galle Road several years ago had to be scrapped in a short span of time. However, after a trial of seven days on Parliament road in March, the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development was able to introduce several peak - only bus lanes in the Colombo district this month with more in the offing within the month of September. The move not only familiarized the general public with the concept but has also managed to gain their approval through successful enforcement.

Traffic congestion

Sri Lanka has taken over seven decades to adopt the priority bus lane system which was first introduced to the world in 1940. However, it couldn’t have come at a more apt time with the rising number of vehicles and increasing traffic congestion on the country’s roads, especially, in the country’s major cities during peak hours.

While the government has spent 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 with the roads bursting at their seams making the situation uncontrollable even by the Police. In fact, according to the Traffic Division of the Police Department 510, 000 vehicles enter Colombo city in a day while around 900 policemen are deployed on traffic duty, daily.

This has prompted the government to seek alternative solutions to the problem. In fact, the Western Region Megapolis Transport Master Plan has identified that public transport should be made more attractive to commuters steering them away from using private transport modes.

According to the Minister of Megapolis and Western Development Patali Champika Ranawaka, the number of private vehicle owners are increasing along with a steep decrease in 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 now being experienced.

“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.

Therefore, Minister Ranawaka says, improvement of the road systems alone is insufficient to curb the issue, and that introducing priority bus lanes is an initial step to encourage commuters to move towards using the public transport system in Sri Lanka.

Priority Bus Lane

Despite the Western Region Megapolis Transport Master Plan noting that current vehicle volumes on roads make it difficult to introduce bus lanes without the addition of new road space that requires costly acquisitions, moved by the need to improve the public transport service, two priority bus lanes were introduced on August 15. These peak-only priority bus lanes running between 6 am - 9 am were introduced between Kurusa junction, Moratuwa and the Katubedda junction as well as between Savoy Cinema, Wellawatte to Bambalapitiya junction.

Beginning phase two of the project two other priority lanes stretched between Katubedda junction to Maliban junction and another between Bambalapitiya to Pittala junction followed on August 22.

“The buses using the priority lanes will be monitored through CCTV cameras,” the Minister said adding that GPS technology will also be used to ensure the buses are travelling on the correct path. According to the Minister, the infrastructure of the roads was also developed prior to the introduction of the bus lanes to better facilitate the move.

“We gained insights into the system through the trial done in March,” Minister Ranawaka said, adding that the new lanes implemented are not a trial and is a permanent project.

The Minister also pointed out that bus lanes have improved the discipline of other road users as well and are a positive effect, while easing the using of public transport, and roads have also improved in the areas where it has now been implemented.

Minister Ranawaka opined that more statistics could be gathered through the project to improve the system in the future. “We need the support of all parties to make it a success,” he said, adding that improving the public transport system is the only solution to resolve the severe congestion being experienced in Sri Lanka.

Public opinion

Meanwhile, public opinion regarding the new move too has been favourable. Speaking to the Sunday Observer, 59-year-old Taxi driver Chandrasiri Vidanapathiranage said, implementing priority bus lanes are a welcome change.

“The discipline of buses have improved on Galle Road,” he said, adding that earlier buses would switch between lanes regardless of other vehicles creating a dangerous situation. “Now, because they have to stick to one lane, it is better for other motorists,” he said.

“Bus travel is faster now from the Moratuwa area,” a daily commuter Anu Algama said when asked, adding that however, she wished buses would remain at halts a tad bit longer if possible. “Police asks them to leave the halts allowing us only a short time to get into a bus,” she said. According to her, this is her only grouse and if not the new system is better.

Bus operators appear to be favourable to the plan with many saying that with a lane dedicated to them they need not weave through the traffic to get to their destinations.

Improvements

With the success of the bus lanes in place, five more bus lanes will be implemented in the near future while the Ministry has announced that school vans will also be allowed to use the lane once the new school term begins.

Meanwhile, according to Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, the Ministry is aiming to convert the current bus lane to a contra-flow bus lane in the future. “The proposed express bus service will operate in the centre lane,” the Minister said adding that due to the high cost involved along with the restructuring of the road system the plan will be put into place with the support of the Road Development Authority. 

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