ISLAMABAD: The federal capital has seen the largest urban influx — standing at 36 per cent — which is higher than that in Lahore, Rawalpindi and different districts of Karachi, causing traffic congestion in the city.

A six-month-long study, ‘Assessment of Traffic Congestion and Management Issue in Islamabad’ by Islamabad Policy Research Institute in 2021-22 showed that migration had also affected the ongoing sprawl of the capital. Multiple housing societies have mushroomed on the outskirts of the city and the estimated number of such residential schemes was 60 till the writing of the report.

As the population was growing, the number of vehicles also went up. The reason for this discrepancy is that many people from outside also preferred buying automobiles with Islamabad registration plates due to its higher resale value. But no data is organised by the excise department to determine the number of buyers belonging to Islamabad and outside.

During 2010-2021, a total of 662,374 cars were registered with the excise department of Islamabad. The number of registered vehicles saw a phenomenal increase during the period, including 127,154 in 2021.

Report says nearly 627 out of 1,000 people in capital owned a vehicle in 2021

In 2021, nearly 627 out of 1,000 people (62 per cent) in the capital owned a vehicle.

The reason for the increase in the number of vehicles was lack of efficient and integrated public transport, financial affordability, better road infrastructure and construction of additional lanes on highways compared to other cities.

Prior to the development of the signal-free Srinagar Highway, the research team carried out an experiment at the signals of G-11, G-9 and F-8 from 8am to 11am on January 3, 2022 to January 20, 2022.

It turned out that time elapsed to cross the signal when it was being controlled automatically was very less compared to when it was being manually controlled.

About public transport services, nearly 59.2 per cent of the respondents (1,200) found the public transport network inadequate and incapable of offering complete coverage to different residential areas and broadly across the twin cities.

The Islamabad Traffic Police (ITP) is short of personnel and is working with 691 officials sanctioned in 2006.

The main congested areas, according to the traffic police, were I.J.P Road and highways, including Islamabad Expressway, and Bhara Kahu.

Nearly 13 per cent of commuters remained stuck in traffic congestion for less than 10 minutes whereas 66 per cent spent 11-40 minutes in gridlocks.

When ITP officials were asked about their duty hours, 55 per cent replied that they worked in a 12-hour-long shift, 8.8 per cent were working on a 16-hour shift, 25.6 per cent on a 10-hour shift and 10.7 per cent on an eight-hour shift. Those working on an eight-hour shift were usually performing office-based tasks.

When asked whether longer work hours affected their performance, an overwhelming 74 per cent responded in the affirmative.

An analysis of the average weekly data of vehicles entering and exiting different points of Islamabad was also undertaken. The highest number of the inflow of vehicles was observed at Faizabad and Soan with an average number of 603,973 and 551,984, respectively

When asked about physical and psychological complications experienced due to traffic congestion, nearly 481 respondents reported of some form of mental stress whereas 321 reported of experiencing physical tiredness and about 205 respondents dust allergy, 127 others some forms of eye problems and 126 experienced headache. Only 199 respondents reported of “not experiencing any form of complications.”

There are multiple recurring and non-recurring factors contributing to either “high” or “very high” traffic congestion in Islamabad such as protests, insufficient infrastructure, accidents, inadequate traffic controllers, poor enforcement of rules, lack of parking space and lack of driving sense. In terms of locations, universities and commercial areas were experiencing higher density of congestion other than highways.

One of the major findings of the study was the ongoing phenomenon of ‘congestion economy’, whereby government and private entities inadvertently and advertently were promoting sale, purchase and production of vehicles, parts, import of crude oil and other direct and indirect services which were incentivising congestion in the capital.

In order to alleviate the burgeoning issue of traffic congestion and unruly driving, the study proposed multiple interventions such as increasing the ITP’s personnel strength from the existing 691 to 2700, direct recruitment of personnel instead of getting personnel from Islamabad police and increasing the pool of the ITP vehicles.

Besides, an organisation named as Islamabad Intelligent Traffic Management Centre should be established to deploy artificial intelligence-enabled and data science-based tools to assess traffic related issues, report violations, provide situational awareness to the ITP and coordinate with any field deployment for the redressal of the traffic issues.

Similarly, the scope of Roads and Transport Authority needs to be enhanced by bringing various matters related to roads and traffic engineering, public transport, driving licence, construction permits, vehicle registration/transfer and development of parking facilities under its jurisdiction.

The Islamabad Expressway up to Rawat required widening and the construction of flyovers/underpasses. A similar intervention may also be needed along with Park Road, connecting Rawal Chowk Interchange with Tramari Chowk.

An integrated public transport system in line with the feasibility study conducted in 2017 by the National Engineering Services Pakistan (Nespak) and the United Nations Development Programme on Islamabad Bus Service should be implemented at the earliest, it added.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

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