Traffic gridlocks are a major irritant that comes with living in a metropolitan city like Lahore. Commuting is becoming increasingly difficult, which speaks of the failure of public transportation infrastructure to keep pace with the demands of the ever expanding cities.
Traffic congestion results in unnecessary delays, and reduction in speed. Besides, violations of traffic rules and signals, multiple-lane driving, and over-speeding test the patience of the drivers as well as passengers on the road, often leading to showdowns, not to mention accidents.
Traffic congestion is the result of cities having more vehicles than ever, and poor planning and outdated infrastructure that cannot handle the requirements of public roads. In Traffic Congestion in Lahore – Costs and Solutions, co-authors Syed Muhammad Hasan of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and Akbar Nasir Khan, Deputy Inspector General (DIG), contend that the economic cost Lahore suffers due to congestion is Rs 100 billion annually. (The amount is equal to the total yearly budget of the Punjab Police.)
According to the United Nations World Urbaniation Prospects’s latest revision, the population of Lahore as estimated in 2019 is 12.18 million. The data provided by the Excise & Taxation Department of Punjab shows that the total number of registered vehicles including motorcycles in Lahore is 9 million. As such, the rapidly growing number of vehicles on the road, traffic violations, and congestion have become a serious problem for Lahore. These are impacting the city’s economy, productivity, and health, besides posing a threat to human lives.
Of late, the authorities are trying to address the issue in consultation with city planners and by employing advanced technology. In 2015, the Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA) was set up under the Punjab Safe Cities Ordinance, 2015, primarily to ensure establishment, development, and maintenance of an integrated command, control, and communications system (PPIC3) for Police. In its first major move, the Authority installed more than 8,000 security cameras in different parts of the city to monitor people on the streets.
In September 2018, the PSCA launched an e-challan service to lessen traffic violations and congestion on the roads by relying more and more on information technology-based solutions. E-challan is issued to the owner of a vehicle captured (in the cameras) violating traffic signals or using multiple lanes at a time. It is also meant to keep check on violations of speed limits, and the one-way traffic rules.
According to a PCSA spokesperson, 1.6 million e-challans have been issued to violators till date, and Rs190 million recovered. Though, 40 percent of payment is yet to be collected. E-challans are now being issued to Islamabad-registered vehicles also, which was not being done earlier because of the unavailability of complete registration data.
However, some people argue that despite the installation of e-challan system the attitude of motorcyclists and rickshaw drivers hasn’t changed. Most of them are still seen violating, for instance, the zebra crossing, or changing lanes, which means that perhaps they are not being penalised effectively.
E-challan officer Muhammad Kamran rejects the notion. Talking to TNS, he says that 5,000 e-challans on an average are being issued every day to motorcyclists and rickshaw drivers. Nearly, 80 percent of them pay the penalty without challenging the e-challan.
Kamran is convinced that the general attitude towards following the traffic laws has improved.
Data provided by the PSCA shows that 40 percent of the vehicle owners have yet to pay the penalties. This means that there are flaws in the implementation of the law.
However, PSCA’s rules are clear. According to them, any vehicle that has five unpaid e-challan tickets will be seized. The question arises as to how many vehicles have been seized till now.
Chief Operating Officer and DIG Akber Nasir Khan admits that the numbers are not encouraging: “The law is to be enforced through the police, but in most cases the police itself proves to be a hurdle. Hence, special squads have been established, with the help of the Chief Traffic Officer (CTO), to implement the law effectively.
“Moreover, we have requested the Excise & Taxation Department to start registering vehicles only on driving license, in spite of the owners’ national identity card number, and also add in their mobile phone numbers and emails. Once this is done, the E&T department will link its data with that of the PSCA so that no one can get away without paying the penalty.”
Some citizens criticise the e-challan system. Their grouse is that the system is unlawful because the Punjab Safe Cities Ordinance 2015 is yet to be ratified as a law. Their other objection is that an e-challan is issued in the name of the vehicle owner whereas in many cases it is the driver who is the violator.
Lawyer Mian Daood is of the view that the Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1965 states that only the driver should be penalised.
Khan is not convinced, and takes it as a misinterpretation of the law: “The law permits the police officer to issue ticket which means fine on the violation of traffic rules.”
About penalising the driver instead of the owner, Khan says, “We want to introduce a points system to address this [issue] and the rest. Under the proposed system, at least two out of the maximum of 20 points would be deducted on each violation. When someone has scored 20 points, their license will be cancelled and they will face three months’ suspension along with the obligation to appear in a refresher course.”
Ironically, a summary proposing a points-based system was approved twice by former chief minister of Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif, but it could not become a law. The current CM, Sardar Usman Buzdar, has also approved it twice but there is no change in status.
Other recommendations in the summary include raising the challan fee, making payments online rather than through a branch of the Bank of Punjab, and sending e-challan via SMS or email to save the paper cost.
Khan believes these steps will not only improve efficiency and ensure enforcement but also make the project financially sustainable.
On the other hand, continuous improvement in the PSCA e-challan system has created possible threat for 3,000 traffic wardens in Lahore.
The traffic wardens had replaced the old traffic management system, but they now feel threatened by the technology-based system. Muhammad Ahmed, a former traffic warden, says: “The changing IT based system will ultimately render the wardens redundant or a financial burden. Thus, it is a great threat to their jobs.”
COO and DIG Akber Nasir Khan calls it a misconception, “Though IT system is efficient, sustainable, and effective, the importance of wardens cannot be undermined. Their services are being utilised in one way or the other, and will continue to be so. For instance, we are about to start an awareness and motivation campaign regarding the green line on The Mall. This is going to be carried out by the wardens.
“The real threat they face stems from uninterrupted surveillance of their attendance and performance through security cameras.”