Sri Lanka has a long way to go in order to be on par with global bus lane standards
Chaos created after new traffic lane law was put into operation Image courtesy – Social media
“Miss, mantheeru neethiya nisa api bus passen yanna one. Ithin drop eka parakku wei,” (Miss, because of the lane law we have to follow the buses. So I will not be able to drop you on time), warned a tuk tuk driver. The newly introduced and much-spoken of traffic lane law has therefore been subject to appraisal as well as criticism over the past few days. While many believe it to be a way to minimise traffic congestion and accidents, poor road infrastructure certainly needs to be fixed first. At the onset of the test run several commuters complained about long delays. Photos of packed bus priority lanes and empty lanes dedicated for other vehicles also went viral on social media. Lane law violators are given a charge sheet, called to the Police and warned, but they fear that they would soon be fined if violations are repeated.
Therefore, the Daily Mirror takes a look at how successful this law is and what more needs to be done to improve it, so that commuters can go to work and reach back home without much hassle.
Rule further expanded
Addressing a media briefing, Police Media spokesperson SSP Jaliya Senaratne said that the traffic lane law will be in operation from 6.00 am-9.00 am and 4.00 pm-8.00 pm daily. “We did receive various analyses and criticisms and after a careful study we have decided to further expand the law to minimise congestion and reduce road accidents.
As such, the following rules have to be followed :
Two lanes :
First lane : Buses including staff transport vans and buses and school vans and buses
Second lane : Other vehicles including three-wheelers and motorcycles
Three lanes :
First lane : Buses including other vehicles allowed to move on the bus priority lane
Second lane : Other vehicles including three-wheelers and motorcycles excluding buses
Third lane : Other vehicles
Four lanes :
First lane : Buses and other vehicles allowed on bus priority lane
Third and fourth lanes : Other vehicles including three-wheelers and motorcycles
SSP Senaratne further said that vehicles could change lanes only at a roundabout or a junction or when they want to take a different route. “If a motorcyclist wants to turn right at a junction, he could go to the second lane. Cars can be moved to the first lane if motorists want to turn left at a junction.” explained Senaratne.
The traffic lane law is in operation along Highlevel Road from Anula Vidyalaya to Pittala Junction, along Baseline Road from Kelani Bridge to Highlevel-Baseline Junction, along Galle Road from William Junction to Galle Face roundabout and along Parliament Road from Polduwa Junction to Liberty Roundabout.
More congestion expected?
“The bus lane and lane laws were mixed up and these need to be separated,” opined Prof. Amal Kumarage, Head of Department - Transport and Logistics Management, University of Moratuwa. “The bus lane is there to carry a large number of people quickly and it has been successfully adopted in many other countries. But in Sri Lanka a lot of things should be improved for the country be on par with global bus lane standards. We need 100 buses per hour to fill a bus lane, but on any road, say for example the Galle Road, there are more than 200-250 buses carrying around 10,000-15,000 people. Therefore this lane shouldn’t be burdened with two wheelers and three wheelers.”
“On the other hand the fundamental lane law should be applied,” he continued. “Therefore slow moving vehicles should travel on the left except when overtaking. This is being done by a majority when taking the highway while people on other roads follow it partially due to poor quality road infrastructure and Police inaction to maintain the law. Branding of vehicles also leads to social branding. As per the last week’s message if you want to travel quickly, get off the bus and get into a car or van. This message will only create gridlock in the near future. The only solution is to increase the number of high occupancy vehicles coming in and reduce the number of cars.” he said.
He further said that we don’t want to be the only country in the world to have a car priority lane. “The Police should also ensure that fundamental lane laws are being followed. They shouldn’t put other vehicles into bus lanes and at all times the Police should work within the traffic laws.” he added.
According to Prof. Kumarage as many as one million people enter the city daily. “Nearly 10,000 buses carry around 400,000 people while 300,000 other vehicles bring in the balance population. Therefore this policy will only promote more congestion.” the professor said.
Pics by Kushan Pathiraja
As per last week the message was if you want to travel quickly, get off the bus and get into a car or van
An unsuccessful initiative
According to Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association President Gemunu Wijeratne it’s an unsuccessful initiative. “I’m receiving numerous complaints and implementing a lane law isn’t a solution to this problem. Firstly our public transport system hasn’t been developed for a long time and as a result people have opted for three-wheelers and motor cycles. So now there’s no way of controlling it. Around 120,000-130,000 motorcycles get registered annually. It’s unfair for us because three-wheelers are also using our lane. Certain commuters experience major delays when getting to work and with schools reopening commuters get further delayed.” said Wijeratne.
He further said that the lane law for buses was gazetted under Gazette no. 1940/21 and hasn’t been amended ever since. “Therefore we are going to file a complaint at the Human Rights Commission against the Police. When looking at the number of people commuting by buses and cars one has to think which vehicle needs to be given the priority? There has to be a shift in office hours and it’s high time that school hours too are changed. There has to be a restriction on heavy vehicles that enter Colombo and its suburbs during peak hours. People are unable to return home because of containers moving around. More parking spaces should be demarcated and we even proposed several roads that should be made one-way.
But once a road becomes one way people use by-roads and that adds to the traffic congestion. I wrote to the President on an earlier instance requesting him to call a meeting with all stakeholders responsible for this issue. But there has been no progress. In fact the Police cannot handle this alone,” he added.
It’s unfair for us because three-wheelers are also using our lane. Certain commuters experience major delays when getting
Attempt to convince commuters
However according to Anjana Priyanjith, President of All Ceylon Private Bus Owners’ Association one reason why people don’t use buses is because it is quite time-consuming. “The traffic lane law is a new experience and the Police, University of Moratuwa and Bus Associations are collaborating to make it a successful initiative.”
said Priyanjith. When asked if motorcycles and three-wheelers using the bus priority lane is a nuisance, Priyanjith said that those vehicles were included since the estimated number of buses doesn’t travel in a lane as expected. “In order to ensure the bus priority lane to be a success 100-120 buses have to travel at a given time. As a result the Police Department decided to include three-wheelers and motor cycles as well. However we feel that this will be a successful initiative in the long run.” he said.
No inconvenience to buses
However in response to complaints received, Director of Traffic Control and Road Safety Division SSP Indika Hapugoda said that there’s no inconvenience to bus drivers. “We have given them the first and second lanes to travel on. Therefore there won’t be any congestion. We will observe those who violate the laws and educate them during this week as well. So far it has proven to be a successful initiative.” said SSP Hapugoda.
We will observe those who violate the laws and educate them during this week as well. So far it has proven to be a successful initiative
Still at trial and error stage
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Transport Minister Gamini Lokuge said that this is only a trial and error period. “We will use it to study and improve the system in future. We are also going to introduce the ‘Park and Drive’ method where we will identify two or three stations where commuters could park their cars and use the buses to travel around.” the
We’re going to introduce the ‘Park and Drive’ method where we will identify stations where commuters could park their cars and use buses
The Daily Mirror spoke to several tuk tuk and bus drivers and here are a few thoughts they shared.
Good way to discipline the roads
According to B.N.S Karunachandra, Administrative Officer (Transport) at Gunasinghapura Bus Stand implementing the lane law is quite a successful move. “It’s a good way to have discipline on the roads. However there could be inconveniences to drivers who thrive on a daily income. Now the buses have to travel in one lane and take passengers from one lane. They have to wait in the traffic while travelling on the same lane. There may be certain issues since this is a trial and error period, but this system should continue.” said Karunachandra.
Have to follow the law
Wasantha Kumara has been a bus driver for over 30 years running an Avissawella-Pettah bus. “We have to follow the law even if we are experiencing an inconvenience.” he said.
An unequal law
However, for Chathura Anushanga who drives along the Aluthgama-Colombo route it’s quite an inconvenience. “Three-wheelers stop at bus halts and wait for passengers. Then there are cars that also go in the bus priority lane. So we can’t reach the destination at the expected time. If we cross a lane we are fined. The law should be equal to all.” he said.
Unfair for those who survive on a daily income
Thilakasiri has been a three-wheeler driver for over 30 years. “I take hires in and around Pettah. The lane law is inconveniencing those who survive on a daily income from hires. Now we have to be careful so as to not violate the law. Because if we are fined we will lose all money we earn for a day.” he complained.
The Daily Mirror also sought opinions from commuters via our social media handles. Here’s what they had to say :
No need of trial and error
“They can use technology. Traffic simulations and analytics are commonly used around the world. We can implement good models and identify the best ways to reduce the inconveniences. We do not have to use trial and error methods.”- Dharshatha Gamage
Unfair and unjust
“I think Sri Lankan drivers need this lane law. But right now the way in which it is executed in Colombo (where busses, bikes and three-wheelers are in one lane) is very unfair. So I hope they would do experiments on this and find a fare solution. Until that happens, yes we, the public, would have to face a few inconveniences for long term gain.”- Charith Dissanayake
Everyone is equal
“Abroad, say in the UK where I live, the dedicated bus lane is the fastest mode of travel to work. People don’t discriminate by saying only the poor travel by public transport. Everyone is equal. This mindset has to change. Progress is necessary for this country to move forward. This period is the trial, once you get into the swing of things, you will be flying!” said Toni Bartlett
Not effective in Sri Lanka
“It’s really not practical if you ask me. It may be effective in other countries, but not in Sri Lanka. I witnessed that all the bikes were restricted to one lane with no space for movement, whereas right next to them there were two full lanes free of traffic. This law should be revoked.” - Shamlan Malik
Introduce heavy fines next
“We need discipline on roads and that starts first with people learning to stick to the lane. At present, even on highways, many drivers don’t follow lane rules; which at 100 kmph is very dangerous. Yes it may be inconvenient to motorcycles and three-wheelers right now, but they were the biggest culprits of breaking lane rules in the past that led to many accidents. I believe once the systems are perfected it will be far better than the mess we had earlier. Next the Government must introduce heavy fines for high speed and drunken driving, overtaking on white lines and overtaking from the left. If all these are implemented we would have safer roads.” said Dumindra Ratnayake.
“I think it’s pure discrimination. Everyone who is in a lower income bracket, ie in buses, bikes and three-wheelers, is moved into a SINGLE lane so that the person cannot overtake, while everyone in the middle and upper income brackets can get about easily. It’s disgusting.” said Yasodhara Arawwawela
A possible journey to Mars!
“Lane markings are also to blame. Checkout the markings at Rajagiriya towards Buthgamuwa. If a driver follows them he would end up in Mars! Then again where there are slight climbs they add a white line indicating that all those in the traffic must move behind slow heavy vehicles. In front of Honda Hitha on Pagoda Road and Kadugannawa are good examples. They must have the markings for motorist on the climb to overtake. Much of Kurunegala Kandy road has been marked this way.” said Senaka Bandaranayake
Awareness a must
“People need to be made aware of road discipline via Television Ads, newspaper graphics etc. Everyone has a licence, but not everyone is aware of the road rules because of past practices. Most buses or three wheelers (90%) don’t use the side mirrors before taking turns, or even put the signal for that matter. Request your space in lanes and give space to others when requested. This has to be conveyed to everyone! The current method of restricting and controlling can be done for a lesser period only! Look for long-term solutions and educate people accordingly.” said Naren Kumaraswamy
Introduce a demerit point mechanism
“With time, and proper implementation it will be a definite success. But there should be strict fines for violations. Maybe introduce a demerit point mechanism.” said Bran Jegan.
An absolute necessity
“This is an absolute necessity for Colombo. They should also implement fines for offenders. In cities like Dubai lane discipline is taken so seriously that there is a separate test before obtaining the licence and 200 AED fine for offenders.” said Arsath Sally.