It’s hard to believe, but rush hour traffic at Haji Ali, one of Mumbai’s busiest intersections, could have been worse. The rapid growth of the city where more than 300-350 vehicles get added to the roads everyday has brought with it problems of traffic management. Desperate for solutions, the city has now put its faith in technology.
As part of the World Bank-supported Mumbai Urban Transport Project or MUTP, a modern traffic management system is being introduced that is quietly reducing congestion on city roads.
At the city’s police headquarters a large screen relays live images from traffic junctions, while a geographic information system renders congestion levels onto a map veined with red, amber and green. Traffic policemen sitting at the screen consoles monitor some 220 junctions at a time through more than 600 hi-tech remotely operable zoom cameras.
Real time adjustment of traffic flow
These cameras detect the intensity of the traffic and feed data into computers. This allows for real time adjustments of traffic signals that are synchronized to help commuters catch green lights all through and thus create an efficient traffic flow. Trouble spots can be tackled directly from the control center. Broken down vehicles or potential security risks or accidents can also be dealt with very quickly through continuous monitoring from the control center.
Sitting at his console at the Mumbai police headquarters Inspector Anand Mule spots a car parked on the road at the busy Haji Ali junction. Through the walkie-talkie he provides the car number to the policeman at the spot and instructs him to tow the car away to prevent a snarl.
Such real time adjustments in traffic flow are a huge boon for a city that they say “never sleeps”. Detection cameras are placed at strategic points besides sensors beneath the road surface. If traffic stops flowing before the green signal switches to amber, the light automatically trips. This is what is called intelligent signaling.
“Earlier the whole traffic system was running on a fixed time table decided arbitrarily by traffic authorities. It did not take into account the day to day changes in traffic pattern. Cameras installed at major junctions can now detect snarls or other problems. “We can alter the signal plan real time,” said R. A. Rajeev, former additional municipal commissioner who was in-charge of the project.
The police say stoppage time at traffic signals have also reduced considerably. Take Haji Ali, for instance, where the stoppage time has come down from what they call 220 seconds cycle time to 180 seconds cycle time. On an average, the signal cycle time has reduced by over 25 percent. “The impact of the project is visible on major corridors where the total travel time has come down. Quick adoption of this technology by the Mumbai traffic police is indeed commendable,” says Atul Aggarwal, World Bank’s Transport Specialist in India.
However, picking the right technology for Mumbai’s future posed a challenge of its own. “Mumbai city is going through a transition phase where major infrastructural programs are being implemented. So we realized that anything fitted under the road could get damaged. So we switched to the camera mode. Such technical changes had to be implemented as we went along,” Mr Rajeev added.
Change in mindset
Traffic congestions cannot be solved through introduction of technology alone. “Getting the system to work through the control room rather than manually by policemen at traffic junctions requires a change in mindset which we are overcoming through regular trainings,” said Inspector Anand Mule.
Meanwhile, the Mumbai Urban Transport Project, of which the traffic management system is a part, is working towards creating a modern traffic infrastructure by improving Mumbai’s traffic on both road and rail.