By James Wong
Recently, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) of Singapore has decided to introduce a pilot scheme of mandatory giving way to buses exiting bus bays.
The news release included a statistic which stated that of the total journey time of buses on our roads, 10% of the time is taken just waiting to exit the bus bays. It may sound absurd, but courtesy schemes were even put forth by the government and bus operators to give way to buses. Such schemes attempted to appeal to people to use their social graces to give way to buses. However, the outcome of those schemes was less than satisfactory. Given this, another solution was needed.
Given the increasing demand for limited road space, the need for a mandatory give-way scheme was inevitable – or so they say. What this means now is that it would be a traffic offence not to give way to a bus exiting from a bus bay if there are road signs indicating so. It’s a bit like giving way to pedestrians crossing the zebra crossing. Thankfully, it’s only going to be on trial for a few key bus stops for now. But if all goes well, this might well be implemented at many more bus stops.
The implications of this scheme reach far deeper into the psyche of drivers than we may wish to think. For one, is this not a very clear indication that we are not giving way to buses out of simple courtesy? It is known that buses are larger than most vehicles on the road and that they are slow-moving and, let’s face it, drivers avoid them like the plague. So when a bus wants to come out of its bay to join traffic, it’s a natural – primal – human instinct to not want to give way, because that would slow the car down. Drivers would then accelerate and prevent the bus from exiting the bay.
This leads to the question: what’s the hurry? Are we in such a rush that we cannot even give way to a bus full of people waiting to be on their way as well?
I think it boils down to this: because of the fast pace of life in Singapore, and the need (or desire) to go from here to there and elsewhere in the shortest time possible, we have quite literally produced one of the least gracious drivers in the world. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get what I mean…
That by no measure is a good thing. However, as a user of the Singapore transport system, I must testify to this: we have one of the most efficient traffic systems in the world as well. Think of the last time you’ve been caught in a traffic jam (this goes out to you Singaporeans). Did it ever last more than an hour? And did it happen very often? How about public transport – could most of your car trips be replaced by public transport if you wanted them to be?
I think I can comfortably say that our jams are tolerable, and our public transport excellent, especially when you consider that Singapore has one of the highest car ownership per capita of anywhere in the world, given our limited road network in our 682.7sq km land area. That’s roughly three and a half times the size of Washington DC, but with 4.59 million people in that space. But does this mean that the least gracious drivers in the world also make for one of the most efficient traffic systems in the world? No.
Drivers who don’t give way, in my opinion, actually slow down traffic as a whole. Because, as much as we would like to be on our way, we are in effect being selfish making a bus stop just for us. A person in a car (it is commonly known that this is the case most of the time) accounts for just one trip; on the other hand, the dozens of people in a bus account for multiple trips. So, the bus actually completes many more trips in a single vehicle, making the movement of people more efficient, thus improving traffic flow. Cars on the other hand are in effect less productive – each car serves far fewer people and goes to far fewer destinations.
If we slow down a little, give public transport a chance – because they promote smooth traffic flow – buses and trains can carry more people more efficiently to more places (commonly known as a higher carrying capacity). It’s deviously simple. So if we could give way to buses on our own accord, maybe in the process we’ll make our journeys far smoother than we might think – as well save ourselves the embarrassment that we need the law to teach us courtesy.
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