The amount of vehicles on the roads is seemingly increasing every single day; with more people opting to invest in their own set of wheels as opposed to taking public transport which according to most is inconvenient, uncomfortable and tedious in more ways than one. Although the government has tried and tested a number of ways and means to ease this clutter and congestion during and after work and school hours, nothing has worked to expected levels.
Since recently however, the public who are tech savvy have turned to Google maps and other apps for traffic updates so they could avoid roads with traffic and take alternative routes to work and back without wasting their time and energy on the road. With Google debuting its traffic tracking feature in Sri Lanka a few weeks back, most tech enthusiasts believed that this could be the dawn of a new era in commuting in the country and would contribute significantly to improvement of the travel and transport sector.
This traffic feature powered by Google works by collecting data from android phones equipped with GPS. Google tracks the speed of these devices while the owner is on the move. If lots of these devices are noted to be moving slowly through a particular section of roadway, it gets marked in red on the Google Traffic layer. On the other hand if a lot of devices are seen to be moving at a quick pace without interruption, that road segment will be marked in green.
Pros and cons
According to Raditha Dissanayake, the founder of Road.lk, an online forum that moderates crowd sourced traffic updates by Sri Lankan Twitter users, this feature is very reliable as an indicator of heavy traffic or absence of traffic at a particular location. Although reliable, this feature might not be the easiest or the most effective way to keep track of traffic as most locations in Colombo – such as the Lipton Circus, Baseline Road, Horton place and Wellawatta –are almost always marked in red, he added.
The feature only gives a vague indication as to what roads have traffic and what don’t; as opposed to what would’ve been more helpful i.e. how much traffic is there at a given point, because even along the same road sometimes one particular place might be more jammed up with traffic than another location along the same road.
Dissanayake however believed that though technology is helpful in keeping track of the traffic, a human element is required in the equation in order to obtain data that is more specific.
Malinthe Samarakoon, Developer at Yamu.lk said he used the app that very morning and having seen that the traffic was a bit intense in the route he usually takes, waited and left home only when the line turned green; this way he said he was spared of the hassle of having to spend hours in the traffic.
It covers the expressways and upto Negombo, in the north, upto Nittambuwa in the east and upto about Panadura in the south. According to Raditha, accuracy of the data may drop off with population density.
As a whole there is little an app or technology can do to solve the problem of traffic in Sri Lanka. Having said that, if each tries to use these tools and try and avoid heavy traffic – or deep red areas as the feature indicates them – and opt to take whatever alternative routes available, overtime, we could expect there to be a improvement in the state of affairs in relation to traffic in the country.