Sri Lanka told better public transport can prevent gridlock
Nov 04, 2014 (economynext) – A top transport official from Hong Kong, which topped this year’s global urban mobility ranking, has advised Sri Lanka to improve public transport and traffic management to avoid gridlock from rapidly rising private car use.
Dr Dorothy Chan, Chairperson of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) International said what was required was a clear, long-term mobility vision, changing travelling habits through land use patterns, an integrated transport system and a pedestrian friendly environment.
"There’s been a lot of talk on promoting Colombo as a logistics hub but this will not happen easily if you cannot maintain a smooth road and transport network to maintain mobility in the city," she told the annual conference of the CILT Sri Lanka branch Tuesday.
Saying she’d already heard of complaints of congestion and more cars on the roads, Chan, former Transport Commissioner of Hong Kong, said: "How to manage city mobility is important if we are to enjoy the benefits of economic growth."
With the volume of traffic exceeding the capacity of roads, she warned that congestion will get worse as the city develops. "Road traffic grows faster than road capacity. Gridlock can happen in Colombo if you’re not careful."
Key challenges were the increase in private vehicles, incomplete public transport networks, insufficient management of road space and regulations not good enough to develop integrated transport networks.
"The more roads you build, the more traffic there’ll be to fill up that space," Chan said. "It’s simply not possible to match the building of roads to meet unrestricted traffic growth."
She cited the example of China where cities are growing fast and so is the people’s purchasing power with car ownership growing to 33 million in 2008 from one million cars in 1994. As a result, Chinese cities experienced serious traffic congestion and bus speeds fell by 60% and bus punctuality fell by 88%.
"There were also important impacts on the environment with increased greenhouse gas emissions, more accidents, more delays, and deterioration in urban mobility which indirectly increases costs of production of goods and services."
Hong Kong’s experience was relevant to Asian cities, she said, describing how the 1,104 square kilometre city state with 7.2 million people avoided gridlock with taxes restricting private car ownership and good traffic planning and management.
Hong Kong’s three guiding principles were continuous improvement in transport infrastructure like roads, rail, buses, airports, ports and bridges, expansion and improvement of public transport, and encouraging efficient use of road space by giving priority to "economic carriers" like buses.
Traffic management using surveillance cameras, automatic vehicle detectors and tolls, remote-controlled traffic lights, and area traffic control systems, helped shorten journey time 20-40%, increased road capacity by 17-25%, reduced accident rates by 15-50% and reduced fuel consumption by about 40%.
"Many of us prefer to use public transport and leave our cars at home," Chan said. "Hong Kong is served by a variety of public transport that’s probably unparalleled in the world. We are spoiled."
Hong Kong’s policy is to develop rail as the backbone of its transport system with buses being the other main carrier and trams, ferries, minibuses and taxis also used.
Rail’s market share of the public transport system has increased to 43% today from 39% in 2013 because of a shift from cars to rail.
Although Hong Kong does not have Bus Rapid Transit, Chan said BRT will help Colombo in building up a good public transport network, noting how such systems elsewhere reduced congestion caused by cars and equals light rail in mass mobility but at much less construction cost.