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Stuck in traffic

By B.KHASH-ERDENE

This issue has been on the tip of my tongue for some time now and I think it’s about time I got it off my chest.
Traffic in Ulaanbaatar is absolutely outrageous. In the last few years it has crossed the line of being unbearable to the point where walking, rather than driving, is sometimes less demanding. It’s easy to come across as if one is ranting when it comes to city traffic. The roads break down easily and are unsafe, the drivers are rude and dangerous and the traffic laws are regularly broken and disregarded, especially in provincial areas. This is because it is extremely expensive and demanding for traffic police to keep an eye out as there simply aren’t enough personnel to cover such a vast amount of land.
In April, the Government created a list of several urgent projects for roads and bridges to be built and reconstructed in the city. It also announced that 5,572 km of roads and 900 km of highways connecting Ulaanbaatar with aimags would be restored under the umbrella of the 4.9 trillion MNT (3.75 billion USD) “New Up Building” program, which is spearheading much of the country’s mid-term development.
Note that construction and repair works are vigorously completed during each warm season of the year, starting from around June to October before the cold month come when it is nearly impossible to construct anything.
For the last month or so, traffic congestion has risen significantly in the city, especially in the city centre. This is mostly due to the barricading and closing of many roads that take a significant portion of the city’s traffic load (because they are under repair). It’s also partially due to the fact that the city is overloaded with vehicles. In 2010, the traffic police’s unofficial count revealed that there are more than 260,000 operational vehicles in the city – more than 60 percent of which were operational for over ten years. Each year, car importation and sales increase more than ten percent, so a rough estimation of today’s number of vehicles that are active in Ulaanbaatar is around 300,000. This is simply too much for a city that was originally planned for not more than half a million inhabitants.
And now the city traffic is worse than ever. Jargal De Facto, an economist specialized in banking and the stock market (and a regular columnist for the UB Post) commented that, “You can consider yourself lucky if you spend no more than an hour to go three kilometres from the Three Dogs circle to the west junction of Narantuul market. Also, it takes two hours to go the same distance from the Officer’s Palace to the Eastern Crossroads junction.”
The government finally stepped in to make sense of this mess. There have been many debates and propositions, some more absurd than other, like the idea to postpone the start of academic year by a month to solve the traffic problem. This would have been a disaster in the long run that would just lead to other issues.
Eventually the government decided to ban cars from driving through the Central Road (from the west crossing to the east crossing, also known as Peace Avenue) on certain days of the week according to licence plate numbers. They also changed the schedules of major trade centres which are the main cause of traffic pressure points. This is of course, so these pressure points aren’t all busy at the same time.
The Public Transportation Authority of Mongolia organized a press conference on August 24 to announce the changes made to the schedule of major trade centres and traffic routes to be involved in restrictions. This started on Monday at 7 o’clock on August 27 and will go on until October 27.
It was a decision which many people protested against. The change affected and penalised everyone equally, so did this make it the right decision? The major trade centres would lose potential customers and people who have to drive through the Central Road/Peace Avenue would lose almost a whole day of work. The unofficial taxi drivers – many of whom rely on fares as their only source of income, are also upset. Angry drivers argue that by simply restricting the flow of vehicles on some roads, this will only put more pressure onto other roads, thus defeating the whole purpose of the wretched plan. People are now starting to ask whether the new regime was worth all the hassle. Of course, this can be answered by looking at the results.
On Monday, at around 2-6 pm (during the busiest hours), at every crossing of the Central Road there were traffic police and people with stop signs for pedestrians to reinforce the implementation of the government’s decision. The Central Road/Peace Avenue was full of angry shouts from traffic controllers and I personally spotted three accidents. Traffic police were working vigorously, checking every licence plate, ready to apprehend any vehicle that wasn’t supposed to be on that road. The whole arrangement seemed extremely demanding on traffic police and on the extra traffic controllers. Although they appeared to be “handling” the situation, it was obviously very strenuous and stressful work which is unsustainable in the long run.
Though regulation on the Central Road/Peace Avenue was air tight, the other roads seemed to be lacking attention. Indeed it is difficult to maintain every road and credit must be given to the much resented traffic police who were doing their jobs diligently and with great patience.
It is too early to pass judgement on the new arrangement, as time is needed for adjustment and fine tuning. But on the first day, traffic on the Central Road/Peace Avenue didn’t seem any better than it had been on previous days – in fact, it was even more tense. Since it has already been passed, I would like to urge drivers to focus on complying in order to make everyone’s day a bit easier, including yours and not fuss over spilled milk.

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=759

Posted by on Aug 29 2012. Filed under Community. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

2 Comments for “Stuck in traffic”

  1. Oh, and one other thing. Why not learn from the experience of others who have variously tried to tackle traffic in city centres? Examples include London (with a congestion zone and charging/penalty regime that has worked reasonably well), Singapore (which uses road pricing based upon the time of the day and congestion levels) and Hong Kong.

    Does Mongolia have the equivalent of the British MoT test for motor vehicles over three years of age? If not, why not? The UK MoT test ensures that all road vehicles have to pass a test of road worthiness and that engines pass an emissions test. This ensures that most mechanically/electrically defective and smoke emitting vehicles are removed from the roads. At the same time, you cannot get your annual road tax without both a valid MoT and valid insurance certificate. The British police are equipped with a real-time vehicle registration recognition system that will instantly advise if a vehicle is taxed, insured and carrying an MoT certificate. Those that do not get taken off the road and can end being put through the vehicle crusher. The use of speed cameras on fast roads also ensures that those who break speed limits pay the price through fines, penalty points on their driving licences and higher vehicle insurance costs. Taken together, the UK has some of the safest (and most orderly) roads on the planet.

    Sorry, but Mongolia has a lot of learning to do if it is to get to grips with its issues of traffic, pollution and poor driving standards.

  2. The traffic, parking, noise and pollution issue in UB has now got beyond a joke. There are too many vehicles on what was already a totally dilapidated road network that is in urgent need of large-scale repair, resurfacing and improvement. As a quid pro quo for imposing limitations on cars coming into and through the city centre, there is urgent need to improve and expand the overhead wires trolley-bus system which is wholly inadequate. If there is so much money in Mongolia/UB for all of the new banks, mobile phone operators and property development, where is it for urgent infrastructure?

    Having visited many countries over the years, I regretfully have to say that driving standards in Mongolia are the worst that I have ever encountered. Traffic laws are usually honoured in the breach rather than the observance. There is precious little courtesy to other road users and precisely none to pedestrians who appear (in the eyes of many UB drivers) to represent a legitimate target. I am astonished that there are not more road traffic accidents. The only explanation for the relatively low death rate can only be that roads are so bad, it is difficult to travel very fast.

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