Traffic jam rises as new school year approaches

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Today, traffic congestion is a major cause of public frustration in Ulaanbaatar, and the measures taken so far by the authorities have not been effective. For instance, according to a survey of February 2021, 85 percent of survey participants emphasized the need to resolve traffic congestion, and stressed public transportation and parking space issues. In other words, Ulaanbaatar residents are wasting more time on the road than spending time with their families, working and studying.

One third of the national population is concentrated in Ulaanbaatar, and the number of people moving to the city is increasing year by year. As a result, traffic congestion is increasing. Particularly, compared to 2010, the load on the main road network has tripled.

According to a survey, Ulaanbaatar residents spend an average of 2.5 hours a day and 35 days a year in traffic jams, with 78 percent of the city’s roads are congested, and it takes an average of 10 minutes to travel 1 kilometer.

Over the past 10 years, traffic congestion has caused a loss of 11.8 trillion MNT, or 4.1 billion USD. By 2024, Ulaanbaatar is expected to lose 24.3 trillion MNT due to traffic congestion.

Therefore, it is interesting to know when and how this problem causing a huge negative impact on the economy will be resolved. The authorities talk about it every year, projecting budget, but they have not found a great solution yet. The government is taking steps to address this, but there are still problems.

Due to the beginning of the new school year, traffic jam usually increases dramatically starting from the end of August. In particular, in October last year, there was a traffic jam in all directions, and all the cars came to a standstill. However, this situation might be repeated this year.

In fact, as the new school year approaches the driving restriction by license plate number is extended to the weekends. License plates ending with even numbers can take part in traffic on Saturday, while license plates ending with odd numbers is allowed on Sunday. A traffic congestion can be reduced by up to 50 percent on weekends, but it does not eliminate congestion on weekdays.

Specifically, traffic to Narantuul market, Dunjingarav shopping center and Bumbugur market has increased significantly, and the parking lots of shopping malls are overcrowded, coordinator of the Traffic Management Department B.Myagmarbat said.

CAN 420 BILLION MNT BE SPENT EFFECTIVELY?

Last May, Cabinet decided to spend 420 billion MNT a year to solve the city’s congestion. It will be spent on complex measures such as road and road expansion and renovation, parking, intersections, tunnels, bridges, highways, and public transport park renovation.

In connection with this decision, Mayor of Ulaanbaatar D.Sumiyabazar introduced congestion reduction measures. The mayor’s first priority is to introduce high-capacity public transportation or a subway, renovate the public transport park, improve road infrastructure, and increase parking lots.

In particular, it plans to introduce from 500 to 1,000 environmentally friendly buses, build 290 bus stops that meet international standards, and create 5,000 new technology-based and human-friendly parking lots. According to Government Resolution No. 146, from 500 to 600 public transport buses will be upgraded in the first place.

In accordance with this goal, high-capacity public transport or light rail will be introduced from 2021 to 2024. Experts say that this will reduce congestion by 17-22 percent. It has the capacity to transport 20,000 to 30,000 people in one direction. Preparations are underway to begin design work.

Ulaanbaatar Project Manager in charge of roads and transportation B.Odsuren said, “We plan to upgrade 106 buses this year, 350 in 2022 and 150 in 2023. There are also plans to increase public transportation and the capacity of Ulaanbaatar roads, and relocate jobs.”

The public transport sector has not been renovated since 2009 and 531 buses will be decomissioned in 2021, 121 buses in 2022, 151 buses in 2023, and 60 buses in 2024. In other words, from 2021 to 2024, 81 percent of public transport buses will be out of service. Therefore, the public transport park will be renovated in stages from 2021 to 2024.

Urgent measures include the addition of sidewalks and bicycle lanes, the construction of schools and kindergartens, and the improvement of logistics. From 2022 to 2024, it is planned to expand the main street by 82.43 kilometers, and the inter-district link road by 70.26 kilometers. It is also estimated that six tunnels, seven bridges will be renovated, 98 kilometers of sidewalks and 249 kilometers of bicycle lanes will be built. As a result, the capacity of the road network will be increased by 35 percent and congestion will be reduced by from 30 to 40 percent, Ulaanbaatar mayor said.

In the medium and long term, there are plans to decentralize the city, relocate major markets and shopping malls, and developing satellite cities.

According to Mayor D.Sumiyabazar, it is possible to reduce congestion by 17 to 22 percent via developing public transportation, by 30 to 40 percent via increasing the main road network, by 10 to 15 percent through better urban planning, by 28 percent via reducing car use -- by about 50 percent in total.

“There are opportunities and solutions to build highways in Ulaanbaatar. Secondly, there is the issue of the subway. We must first discuss with the design companies what kind of subway we will have, and research how many meters deep the subway will be built. We have to have a subway. There is a way to raise funds. The bill on the legal status of Ulaanbaatar will address issues such as the issuance of bonds at the international level and it is being discussed by the working group,” he said.

“The speaker of Parliament, prime minister, and lawmakers have begun work to reduce congestion and decentralize Ulaanbaatar. We need a development policy based on sub-centers. The Law on the Legal Status of of Ulaanbaatar provides for the establishment of a satellite city. A satellite city is one of the key points of Ulaanbaatar’s development. There can be a law to support satellite cities to decentralize Ulaanbaatar and reduce congestion,” the mayor stressed.

In any case, the mayor presented his plan to reduce and eliminate congestion and said the government made a “historic decision”. But it was the job of every mayor to introduce “historic” decisions and plans. Only time will tell whether his decisions and ambition to reduce congestion will be fulfilled.

Recently, the government also decided to employ 60 shift teachers in 25 the kindergartens of Ulaanbaatar in order to reduce traffic jam. Having a shift teacher will change the start and end times of kindergarten. Selected kindergarten children will be taken to kindergarten between 7:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and picked up between 5:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. depending on the time of delivery in the morning.

Cabinet believes that this will reduce traffic congestion, reduce the workload of kindergarten teachers, and enable parents to work full time.

Prime Minister L.Oyun-Erdene noted, “The government is trying to tackle congestion, which is a major problem in Ulaanbaatar. Congestion is a complex problem that depends on many factors. Therefore, we believe that a comprehensive policy should be implemented to contribute to reducing congestion. If this work has a certain impact, it will be reflected in next year’s state budget.”

Generally, most of this year’s 420 billion MNT will be spent on transportation park renovation and kindergarten shift teachers. As the mayor said, it is possible to reduce congestion by 17 to 22 percent by developing public transportation this year. However, there is no guarantee that there will be no traffic jams in all directions in the coming months.

LOW-COST MEASURES TO REDUCE TRAFFIC JAM

Although at the policy level, large-scale development is planned, the Ulaanbaatar Traffic Planning, Coordination and Engineering Department is taking low-cost measures to curb traffic congestion. Of course, these have little effect and in some cases there are inappropriate decisions.

In order to reduce congestion in 2019, it was planned to gradually implement a new regulation to divide traffic into three zones. However, due to public criticism, the new regulations were not implemented.

Last year, the department set restrictions for the government organizations to start work at 9:00 a.m., to make the road between the apartment blocks one-way, and to prohibit left turns.

In particular, the engineers conducted a study and in 2019 banned left turns at eight locations. This increased the number of vehicles entering the intersection from 4,178 per hour to 5,700. The smaller the road crossing, the greater the throughput.

Moreover, the integrated parking lot system was launched in 2020. This allows people to book parking by using the UB parking application on their mobile phones. Particularly, drivers can search for a parking lot and book it online. However, it is not possible to place a car for more than two hours. Basically, drivers are obliged to pick up the car within two hours.

In Ulaanbaatar’s A and B zones, cars looking for parking account for 20 percent of all traffic jams. According to a survey, 15 percent of drivers in the city’s center search for parking for 30 minutes to about an hour.

Therefore, if everyone uses this mobile app, they will be able to find available parking lots in the city center. Successful implementation of such measures will help ease the big issue facing Ulaanbaatar residents even by a fraction.

Misheel Lkhasuren

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