Wednesday, June 21, 2017

“How to ease Traffic Congestion in Colombo and Suburbs?”

@ OPA Auditorium on 20th June 2017 @ 6pm – Organized by the OPA 
Keynote: Dr. Sisira Kodagoda, Chairman National Council on Road Safety (Absent)
Indika Hapugoda, Director Traffic – SL Police Department 
Eng. Mrs SAK Subasinghe, Deputy Director Engineering (Traffic and Road Design – Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) 
Dr T Sivakumar, Head of the Department of Transport and Logistics Management, Faculty of Engineering, University of Moratuwa

It was said during the lecture that the Keynote Speaker avoided the event, for fear of being goaded on the inability of his remit to achieve any favorable result

Without going into the detail of each of the speakers, I will simply summarize some of what I learned and include my recommendations, many of which were actually NOT discussed during this session.

For a topic of such importance, I believe it was V Poorly attended, even by the OPA members, and unfortunately I can only say that the OPA is full of highly experienced people, frustrated that society is unable to use their years of experience in any meaningful way, who use this as a ‘bully pulpit’ to air their frustrations and personal grievances based on anecdotes of their daily lives, rather than collectively sign up to proposals for defining the objectives and laying down detailed proposals on how these objectives can be practically achieved. There were NO ONE from decision making bodies of Govt. and any report sent to them as recommendations will merely be filed and forgotten.

Further there were NO students of Urban Planning, Transport, and Logistics from ANY of the Institutions that provide such knowledge, due to their possible inability to practically attend such an event, DUE OF COURSE TO POOR TRANSPORT OPTIONS TO EASE THEIR ATTENDANCE. Suffice ALSO to say that our education system does not encompass thinking outside the box for these students to research and explore their field of study through different angles by such attendance, and merely follow a ‘BY ROTE’ form of instruction restricted to lecture notes, and recommended bibliography, far removed from real world discussions. I also doubt there was anyone from the media, who could further inform the public of the event, the options discussed and the conclusions reached, to get involved in this debate that requires immediate action to provide solutions before we await the IMPENDING GRIDLOCK!  

The patchwork of stop gap solutions, by providing elevated highways, additional lanes, better traffic management systems, education of motorists and possibly the philosophically essential but politically unpalatable decision of ridding Colombo and Suburbs of Three Wheelers WILL NOT be a permanent solution to this problem.

Further the change in the air quality, effectively confining Colombo to be an area of high pollutants in the air DUE to the traffic congestion and mix of vehicles was NOT discussed, as possibly not being appropriate to the topic, but holistically speaking has to be addressed as a benefit of whatever proposal is recommended and implemented, in order to return Colombo to be a livable City, with the expected increase in Population by 150,000 within the next 10 years due to the addition of the Port City and other UNRESTRICTED and unplanned Condominium Projects in hand and expected.

A 30 year plan is the answer, not a patchwork of unrelated stop gap measures. No matter what Govt. rules, or who is in charge of the CMC, it is imperative that LIVABILITY is the need of the hour, if Colombo is to remain a place where people actually wish to move to live and work.

I am stressing pollution is at the heart of the problem, as only then will the electrification of public transport, all urban transport shifted to LNG or Electric, the banning or restriction of diesel vehicles into the area, the complete prohibition of three wheelers and the introduction of electric, regulated, cost effective taxis(including the use of Uber/Pick Me technology) to both reduce the need for personalized vehicles in Colombo and the Suburbs, reduce congestion, provide suitable alternatives, reduce pollution.

One very important aspect that was NOT discussed, but is related, is the provision of NIGHT BUS service at affordable costs both to allow Colombo some night life, which it really does not have due to this unavailability, and for the thousands of shift workers who currently have NO options but to use Company provided transport, taxis or three wheelers further adding not necessarily to congestion at night, but to the pollution and noise of the City at night. This must be part of the medium term plan for Colombo if it is to truly achieve a status of a Megapolis, which I am sure the planners want for the future.

The driver training aspect much discussed should be part of a much stricter training program to educate drivers on road use, prior to the granting of licenses as is common all over the world and can easily be implemented without delay. This is a Nationwide problem which if addressed will lead to fewer accidents road deaths and reduce the costs to the state and improve worker productivity.

The park & ride system that was discussed should be part of satellite multimodal centers that have parking structures, LRT and Bus stations built together to ensure convenience, in places like Kottawa where the Highway, LRT and local Bus routes meet and vehicles can be parked there, and public transport used to get into Colombo fast. After all it is ridiculous that it takes the same time to get from Matara to Kottawa as it is from Kottawa to Fort!

We have examples from ALL OVER THE WORLD to make sure we DON’T make the same mistakes other urban centers have made, and an example of the Seoul Highway, over a river was shown that after 40 years the Highway was removed and the river was re-established to create a much improved area of business and housing than before, to enhance the quality of the City.

We don’t therefore have to sacrifice any more land for road expansion, we must use these examples to MOVE PEOPLE from A TO B faster, in a safer, more acceptable and cost effective means with minimum harm to the local environment. Th ONLY answer then is efficient, clean, safe, public transport.

This MUST be public policy, in the only country on earth where our rulers and senior public officials DON’T use public transport. If only people had the use of an electric shuttle to get to the BMICH from the main bus routes, how much more convenient would that be for most people? The bus service on Bauddhaloka Mw. Is absolutely atrocious, meaning non-existent and for people to walk the length of the road to get a bus after an event is beyond the pale.

Not to have thought of this when this was built 40+ years ago, with Still NO solution is indicative of why we have a transport problem in Colombo and the Suburbs today.


Put simply the answers are already there. There is simply NO urgency on the part of the rulers to implement these options as they don’t believe they benefit from any of these solutions for the greater good. The short-term belief that they will face criticism from bodies that are adversely affected seem to outweigh the greater good factor that should be the overall catalyst for decision making.

Unless we have a National Policy Framework that everyone subscribes to, and implemented without fear or favor, we don’t have any possibility of extricating ourselves from the current mess we have allowed ourselves to get in. We can no longer think only of ourselves, we must think of the objective only. Only then can logical and practical solutions be implemented for the good of everyone as a whole, where some may lose some privileges for the greater good. If we have ONLY public transport to get to Parliament, that certainly would be a start.


Anonymous said...

Why couldn't the OPA get Professor Amal Kumarage from the Moratuwa University to talk? Is he now so hoarse by shouting about this and NO ONE taking notice and so decided there is NO point wasting his time flogging this dead horse?
If that is the attitude of a senior expert on this very topic, what hope have the rest of us to see any improvement.

Also this issue is of most importance to Megapolis, but they too seem to have lost the plot in this regard, and are fighting other battles, little realizing that this is the biggest battle of the public sector. The private sector makes their decisions BASED PURELY on how the public sector solve this issue.

Megapolis survives or dies ONLY on how successfully they can implement a surreal, swift, seamless, superb, serendipitous and self-financing transport solution for the area in question.

Anonymous said...

Move all unproductive public servants out of Colombo by moving the capital out of the Western Province, and leave it for Commercial purposes only.

This will remove 300,000 commuters at once.

Another would be to ban Children from coming to school in Colombo, citing the fact that the Commute is unhealthy for them as stated earlier.

Drastic measures are needed to make a significant dent in solving this conundrum

Anonymous said...

What is the problem with a standard Rs200 charge ON ALL vehicles except motorbikes and buses with 40+ people, entering Colombo from at most 8 directions? People may at least try and car pool to reduce the number of vehicles

Test it for a month and see the effect, it may NOT reduce traffic but at least there will be cash to build a few multistory car parks at least ease the vehicles that circle trying to find a parking spot.

Anonymous said...

- Ban parking on roads, even near schools; this is major cause of congestion

- Provide an efficient short-route bus or tram system along major routes; not the overcrowded unhygienic never-on-time-but-in-an-aimless-rush mess we have now

- Move all government offices to some area in the suburbs and build a mini-expressway from Colombo to access them