According to Ministry of Mega-Polis & Western Development and the Traffic Police a scheme to extend a priority bus lane to Galle Road from Moratuwa to Fort is being explored to minimize traffic congestion and to improve the traffic flow, by improvising an exclusive lane for busses in the morning peak period. The proposed scheme envisages providing exclusivity for busses on a single demarcated lane to move conveniently and speedily. This measure is perhaps also to circumvent or downsize the inevitable upsurge in vehicular traffic by discouraging road users opting to use other unsafe modes of travel due to inadequacies and delays in the existing public transport modes. The authorities also intend to monitor the operation by engaging GPS and CCTV systems, which are most appropriate and essential if road traffic is to be disciplined, since the present law enforcement measures are totally ineffective and inadequate to meet the existing challengers.
Priority Bus Lanes are laudable schemes in vogue in many countries and such schemes had made road travel more convenient and efficient, achieving its desired objectives. In countries where bus priority lanes are in vogue the road features, road layout, its lane widths are appropriate and conducive to implement such schemes.
In our country, buses proceeding to Colombo from suburbs on every major arterial road comprise Inter-City as well as Intra City buses mingling and competing with one another, the former has limited stops and not expected to pick or drop passengers at every bus stop, whereas Intra -City buses are destined to drop and pick passengers at all stops en-route. Therefore, travelling in a common lane may give rise to conflicts and varied issues making its implementation doubly difficult, especially at bus stops, due to their nature of movement, competitiveness of the bus system, the prevailing culture of road use, and existing road features.
Besides, it may run into other obstacles and complications due to the physical layout of Galle Road, with numerous by lanes merging with it from the sea side. Vehicles attempting to enter and exit from such by-lanes may incur enormous difficulties with buses following closely on the dedicated lane on certain stretches. Further, the center median separation on Galle Road from Dehiwela to Mt Lavinia could also be a hindrance and an impediment to its smooth operation.
Another practical issue will be three wheelers or cars wanting to drop or pick passengers on the seaside, if there are continuous bus lanes on the seaside carriageway. Continuous bus lanes may hinder the merging or de-merging manoeuvres extremely difficult, unless traffic movement is platooned, and gaps created by means of traffic signals or traffic control by the Police at identified locations. Bus priority lanes on Galle Road may also encounter some conflicts from school van services, which need to pick school children in the mornings from locations on the seaside of Galle Road in Dehiwela and Mt. Lavinia.
To a very great extent the priority bus lane on Galle Road from Wellawatte to Fort would serve as an ideal stretch and practically feasible for such a scheme, since traffic from seaside locations could utilize the Marine Drive for their entry and exit needs. The ‘One-Way’stretch presently in operation on Galle Road from Wellawatte to Kollupitiya will be extremely conducive for the proposed bus priority scheme, since three parallel lanes with correct lane widths moving in a uni-flow direction will cause minimum conflicts. The road stretch from Kollupitiya junction to Fort will also not entail any serious impediments since there is less merging and de-merging or turning traffic. However, the two schools located on the seaside of Galle Road, Kollupitiya may create a minor impediment to the smooth traffic flow for a short spell from 6.45 AM to 7.30 AM.
The proposed bus priority lane is to commence from 14th August. The scheme may not run into serious problems or issues during the month of August, since schools are on vacation which virtually takes one third of traffic off the Galle road. The Bus lane operation will be time tested when schools re-open in early September with traffic in full swing moving bumper to bumper.
If the Galle Road Bus priority scheme is to be a total success, the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development and the RDA should give utmost priority to the extension of the Marine Drive towards Ratmalana. Only then will the bus priority lane will be a total reality.