NTSA is set to introduce intelligent traffic management system worth Shs 800 million in Nairobi after the Shs 400 million digital traffic control system failed to control the traffic menace in the city. Hold on…
There is a lady called Selipha Kihagi. I don’t know her, but she posted a rant against the digital traffic control system that Kenya commissioned in February 2014 to help manage the ever annoying Nairobi’s traffic. According to her rant that she posted in December 2014, traffic in Nairobi was still causing unending suffering to Nairobian’s a year and over after the digital traffic control system went online. Her big question was, “what happened to the digital traffic lights?” The answer is, it did not work. Reason? Frederick Ombako captured it well on his Feb 28 2014 Facebook update:
I gather from reliable sources that the traffic gridlock in Nairobi is as a result of the switch to the digital traffic management platform. Like the real Nairobians we are, nobody wants to wait for the exit to clear before moving and therefore the gridlock builds up. Everyone [is] stuck now.
Let me put Fredrick Ombako’s update in perspective. A few days ago at Allsops no commuter other than me and two others were willing to move from the Outering-Thika Road junction to the bus stop to pick their matatus. The matatus on the other hand were not willing to stop at the junction because cops were within the vicinity. The commuters did not want to do the right thing and pick their matatus at the designated bus stop, whereas the matatus were only observing the traffic laws because there were cops around.
The second reason the digital traffic control system could not work, even if Kenyan drivers would have been willing to follow the law, is the fact that it was designed to operate on a time based algorithm. As Fernando Wangila, ICT director at the authority explained, the time based traffic management system does not take cognisance of the fact that some roads may have way too many vehicles waiting to get through a junction or roundabout as opposed to an orthogonal road that has fewer vehicles but has equal amount time to stop at traffic lights.
Recognising the limitations of the time based traffic management system, NTSA today announced that work is in progress to implement a better, more intelligent traffic management system that will not rely on time but will take note of traffic volumes in all roads. According to Fernando Wangila, the new system will utilize cameras that can tell when a specific side of the roads needs to be decongested — when “the right, for example, has a 100 vehicles and the left has five — it will automatically allow the one with more vehicles” to flow.
The Intelligent traffic management system will be able to get traffic data with the help of traffic cameras and lights that will calculate traffic volumes by reading RFID microchips that will be part of the new generation number plates that all drivers will be required to have starting this month. In addition to the number plates, the RFID microchips will also be embedded on windshields of the motor vehicles.
The proposed Intelligent traffic management system is only the latest in attempts by the Government to reduce the traffic management in Nairobi. As reported by the Daily Nation, “Previous attempts to get the traffic lights fully control vehicle flow in Nairobi have failed despite substantial investments in the systems.” Daily Nation goes further to provide a figure of Shs 400 million as the money that was spent to install new traffic lights and cameras in Nairobi in 2014. We are also aware of the previous plans that introduced the Kidero drums that aimed at getting rid of roundabouts in order to introduce intercessions that according to the Daily Nation article, that plan also failed.
The immediate problem one would find in the Intelligent traffic management system is, what happens when one road always has more vehicles? Will the drivers on the low volume roads be in traffic for god knows how many years? The solution that I guess NTSA must be considering is integrating both the time management system and the traffic volume such that although a particular road could be having low volumes at all times, at certain intervals they’ll be allowed passage after waiting for a maximum predetermined period of time.
After the Intelligent traffic management system has been implemented, the next headache for NTSA will be how to get Kenyans to keep traffic laws whenever cops are out of sight.