We’ve all been there. It’s been 15 minutes and your car hasn’t moved an inch. You were already running late when you left home and now there is no way you’ll make it to that meeting. You can hear the frustration building up on the roads, all translated into the painful sounds of continuously honking cars. And there is no warden in sight. Can this morning get any worse, you think to yourself. You get out of your car to figure out what exactly is the problem, only to find out that the traffic signal isn’t working. Cars, buses, donkey carts and motorcycles, all jostling for space from every direction, are now stuck, head on. Welcome to Lahore.
Over the years, Lahore has gotten a major facelift. While a signal free corridor, overhead bridges and underpasses have been built to reduce commuting times in this ever expanding city, during rush hours everything still comes to a grinding halt at the next bottleneck.
At the core of this problem is an archaic traffic management system, which is soon set to undergo a major overhaul. The recently established Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) is working on an integrated traffic management system for the city.
TR Pakistan interviewed with Ather Ismail, Chief Implementation Officer at PSCA, to understand how the system will work.
The City Traffic Police have overtime brought changes to the traffic management system but most of the infrastructure remains unchanged. The PSCA has already conducted a survey to check what may work fine with its integrated system and what should be discarded. The PSCA will work in collaboration with the Traffic Engineering and Transport Planning Agency (TEPA) to put up signboards across city roads with safety information including speed limits.
Selected CTP officials have been trained in Dubai according to their traffic modules that will be introduced in Lahore as well.
Automation of traffic signals
Ismail says currently traffic lights across the city are of varying sizes. Some signals on major roads run on automated timers but most others are operated manually. The PSCA is automating all traffic signals and lights are being replaced with those meeting international standards. “Traffic lights will be of uniform radius to ensure complete visibility from specific distances,” he says.
Other changes to the infrastructure are introduction of LED lights and new poles for traffic signals that are made with stronger material.
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Pedestrian crossings and lanes for motorcyclists
These new poles will have pedestrian buttons installed on them. It will encourage pedestrians to cross road using this facility on zebra crossings.
There is no road in the city with separate lanes for motorcycles. This creates disturbance in traffic flow. On some points on major roads, efforts have been made by restricting motorcyclists to the left-most lane by putting up temporary partition with cones. The success of these measures has been limited though. To tackle the problem, the new traffic management system will have provision for separate lanes for motorcycles.
Network of cameras to monitor traffic
The PSCA is putting up 10,000 Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras across city roads to monitor traffic flow and catch violation of rules.These cameras will be capable of reading vehicle registration number plates. Information about all traffic violations will be fed into the operating system of the cameras. They will have the capability of detecting cars changing lanes in violation of rules or those crossing a red light as well as drivers not fastening their seat belts or motorcyclists not wearing a helmet. They will also maintain a record of cars that frequently change lanes.
On detecting a violation, a camera will automatically take a photograph and generate an alarm for the particular signal or place. ‘Each camera can focus on two lanes at a time and capture up to three traffic violations and generate their reports simultaneously,” Ismail says.
He says two cameras installed on the Lahore High Court chowk have recorded 17,000 violations in a span of 40 days.
The weakest link
The cameras can only read standardized plates issued with registration numbers issued by the Excise and Taxation (E&T) Department, mandated to maintain vehicle registration records. Ismail fears that irregularities in the E&T database and use of number plates not meeting the E&T standards may limit the efficacy of street cameras.
To avoid this possibility, however, the PSCA has taken the E&T Department on board the project. “They have been asked to bring about fundamental changes in their system to improve enforcement, ensure sole registration of licence plates and fix flaws in their database,” he says. However, he agrees that the Excise bureaucracy may still be the weakest link in execution of the integrated traffic management plan.
Campaign to promote use of standardized number plates
The PSCA will soon start a campaign on the importance of standardized plates. Number plates not meeting E&T standards will be destroyed during the campaign as a warning to car owners.
The provincial government has already passed a bill prescribing five years imprisonment for those caught manufacturing such plates. “Around 50 percent of these shops have already been shut down. The police are capable of cracking down on the rest in a day but they have other tasks as well and cannot give this their undivided time,” Ismail says. He adds that the PSCA has requested the E&T Department to clear its backlog of registration number plates without any further delay.
Already, the delivery of registration number plates has been passed on by the E&T Department to car dealerships under a Dealer Vehicle Registration System (DVRS) implemented across the province last year.
Beware of the E-Challan
The E&T’s role in the integrated system won’t end at detection of violations. The tickets or challans generated for violations will be mailed to home addresses of car owners obtained from the department’s database.
Each E-Challan will have four different photos of the vehicle making the violation.It will have date, time and nature of violation and place where it occured and driving direction. Other information on the E-Challan like vehicle owner’s name and CNIC number and vehicle’s registration year, color and engine number will also be obtained from the E&T Department database.
As cameras can read only standardized number plates, for now the PSCA monitors are manually noting down numbers in situations where violators don’t have standardized plates installed on their vehicles. These numbers are then cross checked with the department’s database, Ismail says.
‘Excise Dept asked to fix flaws in its database’
He foresees that wrong or incomplete home addresses associated with registration numbers may initially be a hurdle in successful implementation of the E-Challan initiative. To counter this in the medium-term, the PCSA has asked the department to obtain cell phone numbers of car owners alongside their home addresses. This will let post offices contact them if an E-Challan has to be mailed to their address.
If there is no cell phone number associated with a vehicle registration number and home address of the owner is wrong or incomplete, there is still a way out. “We will obtain cell phone numbers by cross checking CNICs with databases maintained by telecommunication companies,” he say.
Amendments sought in vehicle registration rules
To make these tasks easier, the PCSA has proposed that vehicle registration rules be amended to ensure that it can be done only in the city where it has been purchased and within 30 days of purchase. It has also proposed that driving of cars without standardized registration plates after the 30-day period should be made illegal.
Ismail says that in instances where a car has been sold but its registration record has not been updated by the seller he will continue to be liable for fines incurred by the buyer. “This will help make sure that property transfer is done without any delay,” he says.
Internationally, citizens’ ID card, passport and bank account information is linked, making it easy to hold them accountable for traffic violations. This is not yet the case in Pakistan. Thus, the PSCA plans to link all unpaid fines to the annual token tax payable by vehicle owners to the E&T Department.
‘Synergy the key to success of integrated traffic management’
The integrated management system seems to have all the ingredients needed for solving the city’s traffic woes. But its successful implementation will rely heavily on sustained cooperation between the PSCA and other government departments concerned, says Ather Ismail.