Improving Public Transport As A Solution For Traffic Congestion: Attitudes First

by  G.S Samarakoon, W.M.J.P Weerasinghe, K.M.D.L Kosgoda and H.K.M Vimarshani

Traffic congestion has become the main transport problem in major cities of Sri Lanka. The Government statistics shows that the total vehicle population has increased from 3.39 million in 2008 to 6.33 million in 2015.

A study done by W.J. Weerawardana about Colombo states that 65% of the road space is used by 38% of the passengers. Thus it is clear that the increase in the use of private vehicles is the major cause of traffic congestion. One solution for the traffic congestion is improving road capacity but most of the roads in cities which have high traffic congestions have already reached their maximum capacity by widening as much as possible. The congestion arises as people shift towards private transport from public transport. Therefore another solution for the high congestion of traffic is improving public transport. As buses can carry 40-50 passengers per bus, it will help reduce the number of vehicles on the road, thus making usage of road space more efficient.

The reasons for this shift of people towards private transportation modes are mainly the level of service provided and preconceived notions or attitudes of people. The fact that level of service provided by the public transportation sector is low is the widely accepted opinion in the present Sri Lankan society.

Overall satisfaction about the level of service provided by public transportation sector is average in the people’s opinion. Even though the cost, safety and in some cases waiting time is said to be ‘very bad’, the majority still prefers private transport and transits.

The main reason for their choice is economic reasons. Further analysis also shows that as the travel distance increases more and more people tend to use public transportation modes. Therefore it can be concluded that people tend to use public transport modes more when they travel long distances which is more economical than the alternatives. For a long distance travel, a normal passenger takes comfort levels into account when deciding on their transport mode. Based on that, it can also be derived that buses are not as uncomfortable as the public opinion say.

So why do buses have an exaggerated bad reputation when it is more economical? The answer is the attitudes of the people. People associate usage of private transport modes and transits with being posh and wealthy. The brand of the vehicle you use has become associated with your social status. Tangled in all of this, people have forgotten the real issue which is the fact that it contributes to high traffic congestion and associated problems such as environmental pollution and that the solution is increasing vehicle occupancy. Therefore, to solve the traffic congestion problem, improving only public transport standards is not enough. The attitudes of people should also be improved and every effort should be made to alter opinions.

2 Comments for “Improving Public Transport As A Solution For Traffic Congestion: Attitudes First”

  1. Leo

    Traffic Congestions, Bus Stops and Pedestrian Crossings in the City of Colombo?
    By Leo
    To a visitor in Sri Lanka after many years will see a marked difference in the roads, sign board’s, barriers etc and will think the countries development work has been going at a good pace with regard to transport.
    But unfortunately if you take to the road only will you realize it is a beautified mess. If you travel by vehicle you will be held up for hours due to many issues like, traffic due to public protest rallies, simply due to an accident or due to the lack of patience within drivers that they clog up vehicles making it impossible for anybody to move around and honking as if the devil is chasing behind.
    In a time where modern technology and many sciences are available to study traffic issues to identify and resolve these issues to minimize the traffic by undertaking a proper study it is questionable why the traffic is so heavy in the City. Many would wonder whether the country has done any logical studies why traffic is so heavy in Colombo and the suburbs. Another thing to consider is, if we can have zones for silence, speed, crossing etc why cannot we have a City with a ‘NO Protest Zone’.
    The current traffic situation could be very easily observed if you decide to go by public transport to go to some point in Colombo or suburbs you will notice that if you get down at a spot you are unable to cross the road since the bus stop and the crossings are not synchronized. Even if you try to visit a Hospital, Super market or any place of cultural interest it is the same. For people using public transport the crossings and bus stops are not synchronized and you realize that unlike the country you came from Sri Lanka has not given any thought for popularizing public transport to minimize the inflow of private vehicles to the city or suburbs and this has created this traffic congestion which is an economic waste in both time and money. In most other countries in Asia and the western world people tend to use public transport rather than private transport since it’s more convenient to go by public transport since it saves time in parking and travel also because priority is given to public transport where sometimes there are special lanes too for this mode of transport.
    In Sri Lanka in the bygone past when even technology was not so advanced as we see today there was a logic in placing bus stops and crossings for the benefit of the bus travelers which actually helped to reduce the traffic to the city by not using individual vehicle transport which has been a growing menace to the government. It appeared that the bus stops and the public street crossings were erected with some logic in the bygone days have been replaced today for the convenience of the Police to avoid the traffic congestion in junctions etc, but it had created a bigger mess since public transport is not convenient people tend to use private transport and has contributed to this mess in a bigger way and has increased road accidents as well. It also appears that many a bus stop has been removed which were available in the past for the convenience of the Police since always busses cluttered and honked all the time near bus stops.
    Today are the bus stops and pedestrians crossings erected and painted for the purpose it was meant for? This is a question that we should ponder to find out the logic of erecting or painting these for public use in current times. It also appears that the Senior Citizens of this country are a neglected lot as no consideration have been given to them on marking Bus stops and crossings but only the convenience of the Police it appears has been the only consideration where they do not have to worry about traffic as these stops and crossings have been marked in places where people do not frequent. In earlier days usually these were made available to the public considering the location of important places like Markets, Hospitals, places of interest such as conference halls, theaters etc.
    The city of Fort where the commercial hub is located there are no logical bus stops or crossings for the working people to enter and leave the City and most use private vehicles be it cars, bikes or private vans due to this problem to be in time to work and go home without walking long distances to get to a bus stop. What has happened to the bus halt near Hilton Hotel, Central Bank and near Ceylinco Building which was the closest to the city workers? Some examples of this problem is some very famous bus stops like the one near Savoy theatre in Wellawatte which had been there for many, many years have been moved out which was also close to St Peters College. This halt has been moved towards the Wellawatte main halt and now these too halts are close to each other. Same can be told about the crossing near Dehiwala, Waidya Road when you alight from the bus on the Colombo direction to go to Waidya Road there is no crossing to cross the road to get to Waidya Road and you have to walk a pretty distance to get to either of the crossings even senior citizens. Also strangely there are two crossings close to each other near the Ebert Silva Gas(Petrol) Station and one of these is the one to get to Waidya Road.

    But in Western and many Asian Countries they are developing systems to upgrade the public transport and convenience the public by giving priority to bus lanes and some even has the ability to switch and change the traffic lights for them to go on without stopping in some public transport busses enabling them to keep up with the time table to the minute. Even public transport has special free flow lanes to move on without any traffic hindrances. In some countries you have to pay a fee if the vehicle is not loaded with the minimum number of people required to enter the city during traffic hours. But why in Sri Lanka this is considered a low priority and when the city is clogged up with traffic still public transport is not given due consideration to minimize the traffic entering the city. If the public can conveniently move about they will not want to bring private vehicles into the city but would prefer to bus it if it’s not a hassle like what it is now. Also we do not see in other countries security escorted vehicles rushing through the city traffic all the time with VVIP’s who will never understand what it is like to be in traffic as they do not feel the pain of being in traffic. It appears as if they are the only people who are working for the progress of this country while the others can lazily go about their work taking their own time. This is also one of the reasons why the city planers do not understand the problem of City Traffic since they never have the experience of travelling by public transport. Since the Government is keen to reduce the traffic congestion in the city I think it’s time to re-evaluate the logic of public transport in the perspective of the users.

  2. The public transport services , be it government or private, has been rendered absolutely rotten and the related departments who are responsible for the running and establishing regulations , should first make it compulsory for all the employees to travel by such services and proven so, for at least three months and leave the official cars parked at the premises. There is every reason for the inefficiency and off-handish manner why it is this parlous state. Discipline on the road by all users has been allowed the freedom of the wild ass. Worse, the MTD officials and examiners continue to negatively contribute to the tragic consequences that is taking place on a daily basis.

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