May Issue 2015
New-Age Traffic Control
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has introduced a number of technological implements to modernise the management of the messy road traffic in the provincial capital, Peshawar.
One such recent introduction is the text message service that enables commuters to get information about traffic conditions on various roads. All one has to do is send an SMS with the word ‘PT’ to the number 8333, the short code for the Smile Network. The Network instantly replies to the sender with a text message containing the words “normal,” “slow,” “blocked” or “closed” to update him on the condition of traffic on at least eight main routes in Peshawar.
Captain (retd.) Wahid Mehmood, Senior Superintendent Traffic Police Peshawar, told Newsline that jams on eight specific road-points in Peshawar can waste up to an hour of commuters’ time if they ply these streets. “To help road users avoid traffic jams, a system that could provide them up-to-date information about the road rush was sorely needed. Hence, we decided to use mobile phone technology for this purpose,” he said.
Mehmood explained that the information is regularly updated by collecting data from the state-of-the-art cameras installed at 40 important junctions in the city. “These cameras give us real-time images of the roads, allowing us to check if the traffic is smooth or if the flow is slowing down,” he added. And while the service does not necessarily solve the problem of traffic on the roads, it does help in easing the congestion by allowing drivers to take alternative routes during rush hours.
One commuter, Sohail Ahmad, who travels daily between Mardan and Peshawar to reach the university in Hayatabad where he teaches, praised the service, terming it “effective… A simple text message updates me about the traffic on the roads and allows me to alter my route accordingly. This cuts my fuel consumption and also saves me precious time. Now I always manage to reach my lectures on time,” he said.
The Peshawar Traffic Police also takes pride in its emergency helpline that provides round-the-clock assistance to commuters regarding any sort of road issues. The Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) 1915 service can record all calls made to the system for up to two years. The service is used for emergency reporting and response and complaint registration. SSP Mehmood maintains that an emergency call is followed up in a swift and systematic manner. “Information from calls is combined with real-time data from the CCTV cameras and communication with the traffic personnel present on the spot. We can respond to any situation within 10-15 minutes,” he said. The sophisticated CCTV cameras being used by the Peshawar Police are connected to two control rooms at the Central Police Office and the Peshawar Traffic Police office, Gulbahar. Fitted with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology, these cameras can read the registration plates of any moving or static vehicle on the road, enabling operators to check the registration information online and share it with the officers on the spot. The ANPR cameras are backed up by the latest data servers and database facilities. The KP government has also approved funds for the installation of solar panels to provide uninterrupted power supply to the cameras for 24-hour functioning.
The Traffic Police department has also been getting help from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Technology department to complete its IT endeavours. According to Mehmood, the Traffic Police department is on course to introduce a penalty point system to discipline drivers committing traffic offences. “The cameras can help record traffic violations by recording registration numbers, the time and the type of offence committed by any driver,” Mehmood said. The system would enable the Traffic Police to automatically add penalty points to a driver’s computerised driving license each time an offence is committed. Once the license has 20 points against it, the police will confiscate it and punish the licensee accordingly.
However, although driving licenses in Peshawar are being computerised and the Traffic Police is putting their electronic gadgets and manpower to the test, it is not all that easy to implement such a system as there are a number of legal complexities. For instance, does the law permit the Traffic Police to conduct this kind of surveillance? If not, how can they work around it? To address these issues the Traffic Police department has already sent a proposal to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Law Department for its expert opinion. They are hopeful that the department will extend cooperation to assist in making the roads in Peshawar safer and more convenient for commuters.
The Traffic Police is also hoping to make use of intelligent traffic signals in the future. Such lights have sensors that can increase or decrease the duration of opening and closing of the signals, depending on the flow of traffic.
Mehmood claims that it is the responsibility of the Cantonment Board Peshawar, the Peshawar Development Authority and the Peshawar Municipal Corporation to install such lights. “These authorities can help in easing the traffic rush by installing intelligent traffic signals,” he said, adding, “there is also a need for more traffic lights on many road junctions and squares.”
These kind of signals are used in many developed countries around the world. However, their success depends on the number of vehicles present on the road. The sensors can fail if there are too many automobiles crossing a single unit at a time. With car ownership in Peshawar estimated at 750,000 vehicles, including nearly 70,000 illegal public transport vehicles — mostly rickshaws — this could pose a problem.
The use of modern technology can help improve the management of traffic in Peshawar. But unless illegal vehicles are banned and existing roads are widened and new ones built, technology alone will not solve the growing problem.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s May 2015 issue.
Arshad Yusufzai has worked for Voice of America and has published in The News International and Central Asia Online.