A possible solution to traffic problem ….; also, doing justice for all ….
Posted on September 25th, 2020

Chanaka Bandarage

After the Southern Expressway was opened (aka Southern Highway), a poor villager in Kurundugaha Hethapma told the writer that to celebrate the opening he prepared and treated his fellow villagers with Kiribath. The writer met him again several years after.  He asked the villager whether or not he was benefitted by the expressway and how many times he had used it. The villager responded saying that he was not benefitted from it and he did not travel on it a single occasion.  He was still happy that there existed the Southern Expressway next to his village.

On our return journey to Colombo, I said to my friend who was the driver (he owns a latest model BMW sport utility v), that we must open up the expressways to motorcycles, three wheelers and InterCity Buses (including SLTB) (poor man’s vehicles), (subject to conditions).  A frequent traveler on the expressway, he was visibly moved and very upset. He slowed down and fiercely asked me You must be kidding”?  I said No”.

I consider that the villager raised an important issue.  These expressways were built from their money too. We are all paying off the massive debts that the governments have borrowed to build the expressways.  

But, only about 20% of the country’s population – those who own a car/vehicle reap the benefit of them. A few luxury buses (who charge a higher fare) are allowed to carry passengers on expressways; meaning the poor who does intercity travel on ordinary buses are excluded.

These three categories (motorbikes, three wheelers and InterCity Buses) comprise more than 60% of Sri Lanka’s registered vehicles.

The fact that Sri Lanka’s expressways are confined only to high income earners is a clear anomaly.

It is discriminatory too.

This should not be the way.

Currently only the wealthy and the upper middle class exclusively use them, solely for their benefit. Even among them, some find it difficult to pay the expressway tolls that are high.

I explained to my friend that though vehicles do ply on expressways, most of the time they are empty.  In the night, expressways are like ‘ghost towns’. This is not so in developed countries. They are busy all the time.

Vehicles ply on our expressways intermittently. The volume of traffic is definitely insufficient. On the other hand the roads that feed the expressways (ie, High Level Road, Galle Road, Negambo Road etc) are jam-packed with vehicles especially with motorbikes, three wheelers and intercity buses. 

I said to him that not only my idea will open up expressways to poorer sections of our society, it will also become a healthy source of revenue for the government (the government is hugely cash strapped).

It will be a massive injection of new funds to government coffers. Also, my scheme is a solution to the country’s ever increasing traffic problem. The traffic on the main roads will significantly reduce as a result.

I explained to him that it is true that some of the poor man’s vehicles may not be able to travel at the maximum speed of 100 km per hour, but it is not a serious issue.  For three wheelers, we can restrict the maximum speed at 60 km per hour.

It is not a must that vehicles should drive on the expressways at the maximum speed. We are a small island nation, we can reach any destination by road within a relatively short period of time. What is important is the smooth flow of traffic on expressways. 

It is true that due to the addition of these new category of vehicles the existing traffic flow could slow down, but it is not a significant problem. As the expressways are without traffic lights/traffic cops, vehicles will continue to ply uninterruptedly. The latter is the most important point.

The three wheelers could be passenger carrying or owner driver ones.  There are a very large number of owner driver three wheelers in the country. In villages almost every house has a three wheeler now. They will all get a huge boost from this scheme.

Given that our expressways are largely empty, these poor man’s vehicles should be able to easily maneuver on them. The benefit to the country and the people will be immense.  The benefit will outweigh any negative effects.

I said to my friend that during very busy periods (Sinhala New Year, Christmas holidays) the three wheelers and motorbikes could largely be confined to the left lane or their access to the expressways can be completely stopped.

My friend laughingly said that countries like Australia and New Zealand would never allow such a scheme and I should be mad for suggesting something like that. He emphasized that expressways are exclusive for ‘good vehicles only’, and it was the intention of the government that built them. His definition of good vehicles meant sedans (cars), wagons, vans that only a very limited number of people drive in Sri Lanka, and luxury buses.

I told him that one of the main intentions of the government in establishing expressways was to reduce the country’s traffic problem but the expressways have thus far failed to achieve this. I showed him that in contrast the bottlenecks created by the expressways have exacerbated the major cities’ traffic congestion, especially, Colombo.

I told him that Sri Lanka is a poor country and the government has an obligation to look after the interests of the poor. The new government’s policy of ‘Saubaghyaye Dakma’ is to incorporate all citizens, including the poor.

In regards to Australia and New Zealand, I told him that motorcycles and intercity buses are already allowed to run on their expressways and they do not have three wheelers. I told him that even cyclists, huge container lorries are allowed on their expressways. These two countries have only banned certain land vehicles (like tractors) and pedestrians from entering the expressways. Their highways are always busy (24/7) and earn terrific incomes for the governments.  I told him that the situation in most western countries is similar. They build their highways for all peoples, not just to a privileged few.

I further told him that the fact our expressways are largely ‘dead and sleepy’ is a reason for the frequent serious traffic accidents on them (speedy and drowsy drivers).

My friend (a ‘Colombian’) was visibly upset and accelerated his speed.

5 Responses to “A possible solution to traffic problem ….; also, doing justice for all ….”

  1. Nimal Says:

    What is happening on our streets reflect the two bit para culture of our people, reflecting their non Buddhist values, if one knows what they are.One of those values are refrain from selfishness which is practised all the time on our streets. Our authorities and politicians set a bad example can be seen daily on our streets.
    I see police vehicles tooting horns at the pedestrian crossings when people are crossing half way ie when they not on a emergency call. That goes for politicians escorted running at breakspeed,breaking all the rules.
    Tooting horns show our impatience and intolerance to other road users. They don’t seem value other people’s lives.
    In UK we never heard a car horn in 60s but it is a common occurrence introduced my people who have resided from out side the country and the local too have adopted this dirty habit. I want the politicians to get the manufactures to remove the horn or find AI unit to monitor the usage of the horn and punish the violators.
    In SL the biggest violators are the three wheel drivers and bus drivers showing much impatience. This what we see reflects our broken culture in the country, going to temples, churches doesn’t erase this.

  2. Nimal Says:

    Correction
    In UK we never heard a car horn in 60s but it is a common occurrence introduced by people who have resided out side the country and the local too have adopted this dirty habit

  3. aloy Says:

    Chanaka, Respect your opinion. However I have to point out that what you are suggesting is completely against the concept of expressway design criteria. Three wheeler and motor cycles ply short distances. Expressways are meant for long distance travel and are even higher than inter district travel.

  4. Chanaka B Says:

    Hi Aloy. Happy to note your comment. The southern expressway is 222 km long. It has 19 interchanges. The distance between the interchanges is not long. There are many rest stops located on the expressway. Any way, in Sri Lanka threewheelers and motorbikes travel long distances. I am aware of a three wheeler that picked up a passenger from the Colombo airport and travelled to Batticaloe.

  5. aloy Says:

    Hi Chanaka, Yes, we cannot compare our country with those of the west. It is full of talented and brave people, but no one is there to discipline them and put them to work.
    Yesterday I had to buy some items to carry out some repairs in one of our houses. Because our roads are full of traffic I decided to go with the technicians in his car. It was a Tata-Nano and I thought it being a small car with a light engine he will drive it carefully and slowly. To my surprise the guy had modified its engine and was driving it like a devil. His AC was even more powerful than that of a 1600 cc car. There was no lane discipline for the guy and would even compete with all others vehicles to get to the front. We see in some three wheelers they display texts such as “bolow api budunge banin mellawu yakku”. This says it all regarding the Sri Lankan drivers.

    Aren’t our law makers are the same!. God save Sri Lanka

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