Traffic on Indian roads-whether it is highways or internal roads is usually chaotic. It is always a challenging problem to solve a road indiscipline issue on Indian roads. During my stint at CIDCO, I had an opportunity to work with city planners to address this problem affecting a large stretch of about 300 hectares of highly disorganised road usage leading to the JN Port.
The problem had been an old one and it would frequently erupt in the form of Rasta Rokos (road blockade) by affected villagers on the National Highway 4B and the State Highway 54 — due to fatal accidents at the wheels of the large tanker/trailers moving on these highways as well as on the internal roads of the area. There was also the constant annoyance and complaints from all road users regarding the long delays due to traffic jams caused by the illegally parked tanker/trailers waiting for the call to go to the Container Freight Stations or to the Port gates. In all, there was nothing but constant anger at the way the road movements were managed by the local traffic police, JN Port authorities, Customs and CIDCO.
The easiest scapegoat in such a situation is the police. All agencies could blame the police for poor enforcement on these roads due to corruption. The police could say the responsibility for the road congestion lay in the JN Port’s gate opening system as it was not efficiently managed. The JN Port could in turn shift the responsibility to CIDCO saying there wasn’t enough parking spaces available for these trucks/trailers outside JNP and also that the road conditions needed to be improved. CIDCO could in turn chuck the problem to all of the above players and also to Customs saying that their efficiencies and processes needed to improve. The end result was that it remained a long standing problem with no solution in sight. An inter agency issue is always a difficult problem to solve😊.
The answer lay in making it less attractive for the trailer drivers to park illegally on these roads. Raising penalties under the Motor Vehicle Act is one way. But this was not possible without escalating the issue to Govt and legislature. So thinking outside the box, we in CIDCO decided to take an engineering and behavioural route to solving the problem.
The problem taken up to solve was that of illegal parking on the internal roads which led to the Highways. Here, trucks and trailers would park on roads awaiting Customs checks or further instructions to move to the Port. The roadside parking was at no or low cost because of the low risk of being challenged by the police and then even if penalised, the miserably low fine under the law.
The movement of large vehicles on these roads would lead to grisly accidents, poor road surface despite frequent repairs due to the heavy vehicular load and also unnecessary introduction of transitory people like drivers and cleaners into the roadside villages causing crime.
All roads in the 300 hectare zone outside the JN Port were surveyed for creating a closed loop congestion management plan. All entry/exit points to/from this zone were identified. Controlling a mere 4-5 points in this zone by structures like toll plazas, was found adequate to create the required closed loop for controlled entry and exit to and from the JN Port. All the official parking areas created by CIDCO and by the commercial establishments inside this zone were identified for connecting them on an IT platform with the entry/ exit plazas. Also the maximum travel time for transiting through this zone was assessed.
The plan envisaged constructing ‘congestion management plazas’ which would have computerised capability to time entry and exit of vehicles at the 4-5 entry/exit points of this zone. The interesting feature of these plazas was that there would be free entry into the area and free exit too if the truck/trailer exited within the defined travel time or had parked in an official parking area inside the zone (the entry to the parking spaces inside the zone being e-connected to these plazas on a common platform) so that there can be a straight through passage for the compliant vehicles. Any deviation would be payable by a congestion management fee at the exit point plaza. Further, since the problem of congestion was only on account of large vehicles, all small vehicles would be exempt from this fee based system and would have a straight through passage at the plazas.
Additional measures like height barriers for making smaller village roads inaccessible to truck/ trailers, and rumblers and road signage at accident prone sites, were put in the zonal plan.
Penalizing deviant drivers regarding road usage is an important behavioural tool to keep public roads in good condition and free from traffic jams. It is part of police enforcement actions under the law. But there are many difficulties in its enforcement by the police-from manpower shortage to lack of towing facility especially for the larger truck/ trailer type of vehicles, to lack of adequate land in many congested urban centres for parking these towed vehicles. Design of smart and locally suitable systems for traffic and congestion management is what will help better enforcement of road rules.