Bus Lane pilot project tested | Daily News

Bus Lane pilot project tested

The usually congested 176 bus that departs from the Koswatte, Nawala junction was less crowded and the journey from there to Borella which usually took close to 30 minutes was made in 10. It was the first day of the pilot project to introduce a ‘Bus only’ lane from Rajagiriya to the Ayurveda junction.

The buses, all travelling in single file, had no opportunity to compete with the other to pick up extra passengers and the presence of policemen and bus marshals at prominent intervals helped ensure that the buses stuck to their lane. The journey was not smooth for all however and many who drove to work or school complained that the allocation of a whole lane to just buses had left very little space for them to drive on in an already congested route.

Daily News thus spoke to a few who ventured to take the bus as well as their own transport to work on this 1km stretch of road yesterday, to find out their initial reactions to a project which eventually seeks to reduce traffic congestion within Colombo.

If this 1km stretch turns out to be a success, the government hopes to introduce the concept of a ‘bus only’ lane to all cities in the country.

Public transport vs private

For Amina Rehana, her usual trip to work from Battaramulla on a Monday morning was filled with several choke points on the way,

“The traffic was bad as usual but there were certain areas that were more blocked than normal. The point from Parliament road to Welikada Plaza was a main one. They had opened an addition lane of the oncoming traffic side but even that lane got blocked near Cargills, Rajagiriy because they had not clearly demarcated the lanes,” she said.

She added that a bus lane would be a good idea if there were four lanes of traffic. “The rest of us get stuck more because of one lane being removed this way,” explained Rehana.

Roshani Fernando, a university student, usually takes the bus to work chose to hitch ride to work with her father yesterday and soon regretted her decision. “Later I realized that I should have taken the bus, because it was moving faster than the private vehicles,” she said and added, “The government should implement a plan where all the people will be benefited not one sector or party.”

“Traffic was a lot worse today compared to the other days. I think it was very hard for the people coming to work in their private vehicles. It would have been good for the buses as they had a separate lane to go,” said Harini Wijethunga.

“There are only two lanes on the Rajagiriya road and now one lane has been taken for the buses. The private vehicles do not have enough space to go and the number of private vehicles are higher than buses,” she complained. The Megapolis and Western Province Development Ministry stated that at least 150 to 180 buses travel per hour from Battaramulla to Colombo Fort during rush hour from 7am to 9am and 4.30pm to 7pm carrying around 8,000 to 10,000 passengers.

Choke points

“I come from Malabe. I got in to the bus around 7am and reached Fort around 9.30am. It usually takes only two hours to come from there but today the traffic was bad,” said Roland Somaweera, an employee at a private company. He was of the opinion that separate lanes for buses should be implemented from the Parliament junction (Polduwa junction) onwards as it was here that the traffic reached a bottle neck.

“To have the project from the Rajagiriya junction onwards does not have much impact on reducing the time spent on the road,” he added.

For Somaweera to cover the 13 to 14 km stretch from Malabe to Fort is a two hour journey every day. “This is equal to the time it would take to get to work if I chose to walk that distance,” he stressed.

Rehana and Wijethunga in the meantime also complained that there were many private vehicles who were breaking the rules and using the ‘Bus Only’ lane to circumvent the traffic in their own lanes.

“The usual indiscipline of cars and tuk tuks turning into the bus lanes just cause more traffic congestion,” said Rehana.

“The police were present only at the beginning and at the end of the road. They were not present in the middle, so the private vehicles were also taking the bus lane to move fast. Signs were also displayed only at the start and at the end,” Wijethunga added.

The bigger picture

The Megapolis and Western Province Development Ministry along with the officials at the Road Development Authority (RDA) has braced themselves for criticism over the pilot project and according to Deputy Director of the Traffic Management Unit of the Road Development Authority, Dr. Saman J. Widanapathiranage, the complaints were very much expected.

“We expected several people to scold us and complain. We want them to give us their feedback throughout this week so we can improve on it and get to know what needs to be done,” said Dr. Widanapathiranage.

He explained that their master plan would be to implement a ‘bus only’ lane from the Polduwa Junction, Battramulla to Pettah to solve many of the traffic issues faced by people like Somaweera on a day to day basis.

“Until now, there has been no special lane for public transport and thus the system faced a severe drawback and it simply resulted in the increase in the number of private vehicles,” explained Dr. Widanapathiranage.

Contrary to demand that more lanes would also make it easier for private vehicles to travel along with the buses, Dr. Widanapathiranage made it clear that the government had no intension of making it easy for someone to use their own car.

“We cannot broaden these roads any more. There are high-rise buildings on either side making that impossible, so the only solution is to manage the space we have. And to do that we need to improve the public transport system,” he said. On the first day of the pilot project, Dr. Widanapathiranage observed that it was only natural that users of private vehicles would not be happy with the pilot project but added that many bus drivers had thanked him for the project. During this week, the officials as well as the Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) are to meet every evening to discuss the issues and ways in which they could improve on the system.

“The bus lane is much needed but it will not be a success overnight as there are a few shortcomings we have to fix,” said President of the LPBOA, Gemunu Wijeratne.

The first day of the pilot project showed that most of the buses were getting stuck in traffic near the Polduwa junction and thus few buses could make way to the bus only lane at Rajagiriya. “Once the bus lane is extended to the Parliament area, it would be better. Right now it takes the bus longer to get to Rajagiriya and as a result we have few buses on the lane,” said Wijeratne.

Dr. Widanapithiranage also observed that the usual choke points were at the Polduwa junction and that every morning as vehicles turned towards HSBC Rajagiriya, Nawala and into Kotte, they caused further blocks.

“Today because of the current construction of the flyover, there is a traffic congestion. We also saw private vehicles entering the bus lane causing more traffic blocks. This is a social problem we also have to take into account; some people follow the rules and others don’t,” he said.

Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) Chairman, Ramal Siriwardena said, “We have to give this more time and see. We can comment on its success after a week.”

The RDA is also currently working on the extension of the bus only lane to Battramulla and Fort area too, but Dr. Widanapathiranage expected that to take longer given the complexity of the roads.

Despite such promises however those like Fernando believe that simply the introduction of a separate bus only lane would not encourage people to switch to public transport immediately,

“Our public transport system is not at all friendly towards the people; that should be sorted out first,” she said.

This pessimism however has not been lost on the government and Dr. Widanapathiranage said they would introduce air conditioned buses and better buses so that people will opt to take the bus more often. “We cannot increase the number of lanes, we want people to keep their vehicles at home and take the bus,” he added.

The Ministry of Transport has in the meantime received Cabinet approval to purchase 500 buses and they are expected to bring down 100 luxury buses to Sri Lanka soon.

The pilot project has a few more days to run its course and while many are prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt, given our dire traffic circumstances, Nadeeka Silva, an employee at a government institution said, “We must also ensure that the drivers are monitored rigorously and that both bus drivers and private vehicle owners should stick to their dedicated lane.” 

Pictures by Dushmantha Mayadunne

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