Since he became the special commissioner for the Bengaluru traffic police last month, MA Saleem has been receiving praise on social media for his handling of the traffic situation in the city. There have been multiple anecdotal reports of a reduction in commute time in several parts of Bengaluru. Sanath Prasad from indianexpress.com spoke with the new special traffic police commissioner on the present traffic situation and his plans for the IT capital.
Q: What changed after you took over the reins of the Bengaluru traffic department?
Saleem: Our priority is to regulate traffic. The traffic police are on the roads now, particularly during peak hours. Our idea is that if officers are present on the road, they can take quick decisions and ensure the free flow of traffic. Some of the obstacles like wrong parking, buses not stopping at designated bus stops, vehicle breakdowns, and the movement of heavy goods vehicles during peak hours will be taken care of. We will ensure a smooth ride for motorists and office-goers.
Q: Recently, many people have praised you for decongesting traffic and reducing travel time. What took Bengaluru so long to see the change?
Saleem: During my tenure as the additional commissioner of the Bengaluru traffic police a few years ago, I made the traffic on 128 roads in central Bengaluru one-way. That is the reason why the traffic flow in the central area is by and large okay. It is not so bad compared to other areas, because major thoroughfares like Raj Bhavan Road, Residency Road, Museum Road, and St Marks Road are one-way. The flow of traffic on these roads is better because there are fewer junction conflicts. The problem is in outer areas like Hebbal, Tumkur Road, KR Puram, and Silk Board. Although we can implement short-term measures to lessen traffic woes, civic agencies will have to work on finding long-term solutions. But as far as traffic regulation and management are concerned, we will try to do our best within the available infrastructure.
Q: Population growth leads to more vehicles on the roads. Do you think the traffic situation will become more challenging for a growing city like Bengaluru?
Saleem: The population of Bengaluru is now close to 1.3 crore and the number of vehicles is about one crore. But the positive thing is that the government is making a lot of investment in developing public transport. For example, metro phase 1 is over, and phases 2, 2A, are 3 are likely to become operational in the next couple of years. Also, the work on developing the suburban rail network is underway. When these initiatives are completed, traffic congestion will automatically come down as more people will use public transport as it is cheaper and faster. In the future, we may see a lot of reduction in vehicular traffic. Moreover, though we have close to one crore vehicles, the actual vehicle population at any given point in time is not more than 22 lakh.
Q: Many road repair works along with the metro construction are underway in Bengaluru. What is your strategy to deal with such situations and how are you diverting traffic on these roads?
Saleem: We will have to bear with a little pain for the time being. But if you look at the end result, it will be actually good. We have good coordination with the civic body and other agencies now. We are installing boards to divert the traffic. We have deployed extra force and have also asked the agencies to provide home guards. We got more than 200 home guards and deployed them on roads where repair works are going on.
Q: What are the measures that have been taken to implement traffic regulations since you assumed office? Which are the main traffic junctions that need immediate attention?
Saleem: Around 10 junctions – Hebbal flyover, Gorguntepalya junction, KR Puram, Iblur junction, Kaadubeesinahalli junction, Marathahalli, Silk Board, Bannerghatta Road, Sarakki junction, and Banashankari temple junction – suffer from perennial traffic congestions. However, we are not planning any traffic diversions or new regulations along the Ring Road near Sarakki because we are waiting to see how the metro project work pans out. Besides, we are synchronising signals to ease the flow of traffic like it is done under the Manhattan model. We are going to have adaptive signals but they will take another six months to be operational. We will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to read and manage traffic flow. The AI system will be embedded in traffic signals and we are already going through the tendering process. Out of 353 traffic signals in the city, we are planning to install AI in 165 signals in the first phase.
Besides, we are looking at the enforcement of traffic laws. We want to bring more transparency. There are complaints from motorists that the police harass them, which is why we are implementing contactless enforcement. There will be no contact between policemen and road users. We have installed a lot of automatic number plate recognition cameras, red light violation cameras, and regular surveillance cameras that will be used to book cases against traffic violators. However, police officers will still be on the ground to stop violators and book cases against them.
Q: In the coming days, what plans or reforms are you going to enforce to regulate traffic?
Saleem: We have still not been able to ease traffic congestion in Bengaluru completely. We will go back to the old regulatory measures. When I introduced one-way traffic in the central area of Bengaluru, a lot of people were sceptical about it. But the plan has sustained for a decade. As a result, I will implement the one-way model on roads where we have not done that yet. There will be turning restrictions, and parking restrictions, among others. In addition, we have roped in 200 traffic wardens, each of whom will put in 16 hours a month for managing traffic. Some organisations are providing us with security guards and we are training them to act as traffic marshals along the Outer Ring Road stretch. We are also providing soft behavioural skill training to traffic police officers.
Q: What plans are in place for ensuring efficient traffic management near schools? What instructions have you given to school buses and tempo vans that are parked on main roads?
Saleem: In 2010, ‘Safe Route to School’ was among the most-talked-about projects. It aimed to ensure the greatest safety for school children. We also encouraged the use of public transport over personal vehicles to ferry school children. We ensured all schools start before 8:30 am so that we can segregate school traffic from normal traffic. We also banned the parking of personal vehicles for 200 metres around schools and permitted students to be transported in autorickshaws, school vans, and public transport. A lot of schools cooperated. However, this project was shelved. Now, we are reviving the project.
Q: Many heavy vehicles carrying goods like vegetables, food grains, and fuel enter the city. However, some lorry drivers have alleged that traffic cops stop them from entering the city even before the peak hours kick in. How can you manage the movement of heavy goods vehicles without impacting the supply chain?
Saleem: In 2014, we banned the movement of heavy goods vehicles during peak hours – between 8 am to 11 am and from 6:30 pm to 8 pm. But an exception is provided to fuel tankers, vehicles carrying food grains, and essential commodities. We encourage suppliers to use light commercial vehicles as much as possible. In addition, we have also informed heavy vehicle users to avoid the Hebbal flyover between 8:30 am and 10:30 am.
Q: What is your strategy to manage traffic in the IT corridor, especially along the Outer Ring Road stretch?
Saleem: We have deployed additional manpower along the Outer Ring Road and have made the service roads one-way. Bus stops have been shifted to service roads. We cannot ensure the free flow of traffic in all areas, considering a lot of infrastructure-related work is underway. In addition, we are also removing certain one-ways and road diversions near Whitefield (Hoodi Junction) that were earlier in place because of the metro work.
For the Hope Farm junction Road, we have asked our traffic consultant to give us a plan and check if signal phasing can be changed. At this junction, there are four roads, and all bear heavy traffic, so the queue length on all these roads is long.
Q: There have been complaints of delivery agents driving rashly and violating traffic laws. How are you tackling this issue?
Saleem: We convened a meeting with e-commerce, food delivery apps, and cab aggregators recently wherein we highlighted the issue of shorter deadlines leading to delivery agents violating traffic rules. We have told them that traffic rules and laws have to be followed. The companies can use the automatic challan system of the traffic department to check the cases registered against their delivery agents. Based on it, the companies can take action and terminate such violators from service.