Park-and-Ride back on track | Daily News

Park-and-Ride back on track

Traffic congestion in Rajagiriya on a working  day
Traffic congestion in Rajagiriya on a working day

Both public and private modes of transport have run into great difficulties due to limited fuel supplies, and a frantic hunt for fuel continues as queues are getting longer and motionless day-by-day at almost every shed.

The public discomfiture due to the fuel crisis was palpable all over the country last week, while the Dollar-starved Government was desperately looking for a new Credit Line to keep the wheels of the country turning, literally as well as figuratively.

Due to the inability to refuel their vehicles and the skyrocketing fuel prices, many people have been forced to limit travel by their private vehicles and use public transport instead. However, public transport buses and trains were overcrowded, making the daily commute to work and travel for other essential purposes an unpleasant and exhausting experience, especially in Colombo during peak hours.

There was a marked drop in the number of private buses on many routes. Risking their lives, people were seen travelling on footboards, rooftops and between compartments of trains. Taxi and cab services were also not functioning smoothly as their numbers have dwindled in the wake of the fuel crisis. Their rates have doubled, but their services have become unreliable.

In the wake of the crippling fuel crisis, the Government was compelled to declare a two-week ‘Work from Home’ (WFH) period from Monday for public servants, except for those in essential services. In addition, schools in Colombo and other urban areas have been instructed to only hold online classes this week. In fact, the fuel shortage has brought normal life to a virtual standstill in the country.

Alternative

The Transport and Highways Ministry, in coordination with its affiliated institutions, is trying hard to expand the services of the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) and the Railway Department to cater to the increasing demand, while also assisting private bus owners to continue their services as much as possible. All of that has to be managed with the existing funds and resources as new allocations are hard to come by.

It is in this context that transport authorities are making a renewed attempt to promote the ‘Park and Ride’ concept to save fuel and to ease the prevailing transport difficulties.

‘Park and Ride’ (P&R) is promoted in many countries to attract people to public transport to help reduce the traffic volume in major cities. As the words themselves reflect, it offers commuters to park their vehicles at a safer location and take a luxury bus, which operates like a city shuttle or a premium point-to-point bus service, for their transport needs.

‘P&R’ is not entirely new to Colombo, and various attempts have been made since 2009 to experiment it in pilot scale as a solution to heavy traffic congestion in peak hours, but it has not achieved tangible progress. As in the proverb “Every dark cloud has a silver lining,” the prevailing crisis situation has given yet another chance, fairly a good chance, to make the ‘P&R’ concept actually work in the metropolis.

Target audience

There cannot be a better time to promote this service among the private vehicle users as they are now automatically shifting to public transport due to non-availability of fuel. Having spent a considerable proportion of their income for the comfort of travelling in their own vehicles, there is a good chance that they will be keener to try out this service, which promises a comfortable, convenient and safe trip, even at a higher rate. Those who are presently using hired vehicles and private staff transport services may also consider switching to this mode of public transport. It even has the potential to capture a portion of public transport users, who wish for a more comfortable and reliable mode of transport as against crowded buses.

This service, which charges double the rate of normal bus fare, may not cater to the transport needs of the common man, but when looking at the big picture, it will indirectly benefit them also. If ‘P&R’ could be made a success, it would help reduce fuel consumption to a considerable extent, and traffic management in Colombo and its suburbs, in the long run. Thereby, the economic loss due to snarled traffic, which includes waste of time and fuel and wear and tear of vehicles, could be mitigated. Moreover, it will help reduce the number of road accidents and air pollution and noise pollution in the city. It will also solve the parking space problem in the city to a large extent. Illegal and irregular parking often causes inconvenience to all road users from motorists to pedestrians.

Schedule


The city bus service was re-launched last week

The ‘P&R’ facility is now available at Kottawa, Kadawatha and Katubedda to come to Colombo City and go back. City buses, which are starting from Makumbura Multimodel Transport Centre (Kottawa), operate on two separate routes, clockwise and anticlockwise, and pass through Nugegoda, Pettah, Battaramulla, Narahenpita and Bambalapitiya. There are city buses to Fort and Battaramulla from Kadawatha Multimodel Transport Centre, and city buses, starting from Angulana Junction at Katubedda, also reach Fort via Galle Road.

Transport and Highways Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena told the media last week that city buses would run every 10 minutes between 6.30am and 8am from those three destinations to Colombo Fort, and every 15 minutes between 4pm and 6pm from Colombo Fort to return to the same destinations. During the intermediate period, they will operate on an hourly basis.

Parking fee for ‘P&R’ at Makumbura Multimodel Transport Centre has been slashed by 40 per cent and parking is totally free at Kadawatha and Katubedda ‘P&R’ centres to encourage more people to take this service, Greater Colombo Transport Network Improvement Project Director Nalaka Dissanayake said. He told the Daily News that the parking fee for a car for 12 hours at Makumbura Centre has been brought down to Rs.200 from Rs.300.

“We have utilized luxury buses of the SLTB as well as luxury buses which have the route permit issued by the Western Province Road Passenger Transport Authority to provide the ‘P&R’ service. The Authority has called tenders to register more buses for this purpose,” the Project Director said.

When asked whether a passenger can get down or get in from an intermediate location, he said the bus operators would be flexible for such requests as far as that location falls within the given route. “We have to promote a door-to-door system to attract a person, who uses a private vehicle for daily travel, to public transport. We try to get him or her in from the nearest point,” he added.

One specific constraint for work trip makers to switch to ‘P&R’ is that they often have additional trips on their way to the office. For example, some parents are used to carrying their children to school while travelling to the office.

Rush hour

There are seven major corridors to enter Colombo namely, Galle Road, Horana-Piliyandala Road, High-Level Road, Battaramulla Road, Kaduwela Low-Level Road, Kandy Road and Negombo Road. Out of these, Dissanayake pointed out that Battaramulla Corridor is the most congested and the average speed of a vehicle has dropped to about 5 kilometres per hour on this road. “Diyatha Park area has become a bottleneck as vehicles coming from many directions such as Malabe, Kaduwela, Athurugiriya, Parliament Road etc. connect,” he observed.

He explained that a population of 1.8 million to 2 million enter Colombo daily from 500,000-520,000 vehicles when normal conditions prevail in the country. Eighty seven per cent of that number of vehicles is private vehicles, but, in most cases, there are only one or two passengers in them. This is in addition to the already existing traffic from within the densely populated city. It is understandable that the peak period congestion is largely created by private vehicles.

Better late than never


Trains were packed last week

Moratuwa University Transport and Logistics Management Department Senior Professor Amal S. Kumarage noted that if a passenger uses a bus to travel one kilometre, as against using a private vehicle, he uses only one sixth of the fuel. “This gives an idea how much of fuel can be saved by promoting public transport,” he remarked, adding that the present fuel crisis was a huge wake-up call for transport authorities.

“Developing the quality of public transport is one strategy that many cities have undertaken to keep vehicles away from the city centre. ‘P&R’ is a way of providing better quality public transport. Even though we commenced it in 2010, the Transport Ministry and the National Transport Commission, in subsequent years, did not consider it as important enough to maintain, develop and expand. Had we developed this concept, we would have had a better quality public transport system available as an alternative when the country, after 12 years, hit a crisis like this. In a country where we totally depend on imported fuel, we have to lament the fact that our authorities did not have the foresight and professionalism to actually prepare for eventualities like this,” he told the Daily News.

“Will ‘P&R’ work now? Well, it is better than not trying, but it should not be just for the moment. These are things we have to set up because they are good for us anyway. They are permanent features in a country. We need institutional undertaking, which must be supported by the Treasury where needed, to deliver those services and improve them. The relevant Government agencies should not only supply it with the right kind of buses, but also look into giving necessary publicity, digital background and a right pricing structure to it. They should be flexible to what people demand in terms of timing and routes of the buses and also integrate the service with other modes of transport,” he commented.

There is no argument that our public transport system needs improvement in many ways. Had it been in order, the fuel crisis would not have hit the people this badly. Today, the entire transport sector has run into chaos.

It may also be pertinent to remind here that if the Japan-funded Light Rail Transit (LRT) Project in Colombo could have been materialized, it would have given many passengers easy access to Colombo. Cancelling this project of the elevated railway system, designed to connect strategic locations and transport hubs from Malabe to Fort, was yet another historic mistake of the Government two years ago.

Many things have been left undone. A quality public transport system is still a distant dream in this country, but what is more important now is trying our best to make progress with whatever resources and funds available. The ‘P&R’ system is a step forward in the right direction to realize that dream. 


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