Volunteers Lined to Help City Tackle Traffic Accidents

Since June of 2017, Addis Abeba has witnessed traffic volunteers spread across city centres. Draped in green vests, they are concentrated at pedestrian crossings along public squares and railway tracks where huge foot and vehicular traffic intersects.

Aynalem Biruse, in her late twenties, is one of 350 volunteers deployed by the Addis Abeba Road Traffic Management Agency in cooperation with the Addis Abeba Youth Federation.

Aynalem, a mother, and now in her final trimester of pregnancy, is stationed at Megenagna, in Yeka District. She is working the afternoon shift, which runs from 4pm to 7pm.

“I received a day-long training on the basics of traffic facilitation before starting,” said Aynalem, who works every day except Sundays together with 22 of her colleagues.

These volunteers are stationed along the busiest routes and squares, and 23 railway crossings.

The project started with 100 volunteers in August of last year as a pilot scheme in Mesqel Square and the surrounding areas.

The location was chosen for its high traffic flow, according to Hagere Hailu, director of road safety awareness at the agency.

“The pilot project showed us that accident rates could be reduced,” he said.

Pedestrians often appreciate the services and heed instructions. by the youth.

The agency scaled up the program by enlisting young volunteers and assigned them area in Megenagna, Torhailoch, Mesqel Square and Mexico, according to Hagere.

The volunteers received practical training from traffic police officers and were equipped with vests, whistles and stop paddles.

The project costs 5.5 million Br, with the budget mainly being spent on stipends paid to volunteers, and it is fully covered by the agency.

“The Addis Abeba Road Traffic Management Agency pays us a monthly salary of 1,300 Br,” she said.

Pedestrians often appreciate the services and heed instructions. by the youth.

“There is a difference when the volunteers are around,” Helen Alemu told Fortune after crossing a road at Mexico Square. “Pedestrians and cars are more likely to follow the rules.”

Another pedestrian, Mulugeta Addisu, agreed. He recommends that more training and permanent job opportunities should be offered to the young volunteers as chaos ensues when pedestrians and drivers are left to their own devices.

These sentiments are not always shared. The volunteers are sometimes abused by some in the public when instructed to obey the rules, according to Abiy Asha, chairperson of one of  Yeka district’s youth associations.

One effort is an ongoing discussion with major stakeholders like the Ethiopian Railway Corporation and the Addis Abeba City Road Authority on the construction of overpass bridges at some of the crossings of the light rail system.

“In my district, I have 45 volunteers that work in different shifts,” he said.

A father of two, he works both in construction and for the association. Like him, the other volunteers are also part-time workers employed in other jobs in their spare times.

“There were at least 10 accidents a day related to pedestrians between 22 Mazoriato Hayat before the volunteers were deployed,” Abiy said. “It has significantly decreased now.”

Walking is the primary mode of transportation in the city, accounting for 70pc of all commuting activities in Addis Abeba. Over a quarter of commuters use public transport and only four percent use personal vehicles. Between 2013 and 2016, four-fifths of fatalities recorded involved pedestrians.

During the first nine months of the previous fiscal year, Addis Abeba witnessed 325 fatalities, with 1,441 major and 673 minor injuries. On the national level, traffic-related loss of property was reported at 266 million and 2,315 fatalities during the first half of same fiscal year, according to the Federal Police Commission.

Poor road network systems, inadequate knowledge of traffic safety, poor legislation, failure of enforcement, mixed traffic flow systems and poor conditions of vehicles are listed as major causes of road traffic accidents in Ethiopia.

Traffic accidents have claimed the lives of nearly 16,000 individuals in Ethiopia between 2014 and 2017. Over 50,000 people have also sustained major injuries, according to a report by the Ministry of Transport.

“To reduce traffic accidents, the agency is undertaking measures with a 300 million Br budget,” says Genetu Dessalegn, director of the Road Traffic Management Agency.

Example of these measures are the speed humps and strips installed at a cost of 62 million Br in 10 accident-prone streets within the city.

The young volunteers are the other mechanism by which the city is trying to reduce accidents.  A recent recruit of the traffic police, Muluken Atnafu, said that they have been effective.

Muluken observes that rush hour accidents have declined, and there is now better awareness of traffic laws.

“At least most of the pedestrians patiently wait for the volunteers to guide them ” she said.

An impact study,  based on questionnaires conducted by the agency after the deployment of the traffic volunteers, indicates that pedestrians largely agree that traffic volunteers have smoothed congestion. The study has also discovered that the public conforms better to traffic laws and that the disabled are more likely to have an easier time crossing the streets.

At the same token, drivers acknowledged that the volunteers helped make them feel safer during rush hour and that they were more likely to respect the right-of-way of pedestrians.

Traffic police for their part believed accidents were reduced, traffic proceeded smoothly and laws were better respected.

For Genetu, director of the Traffic Agency, this program is a temporary solution to the nation’s persistent challenge of traffic accidents, and more permanent solutions are underway.

One effort is an ongoing discussion with major stakeholders like the Ethiopian Railway Corporation and the Addis Abeba City Road Authority on the construction of overpass bridges at some of the crossings of the light rail system.

Fekadu Gurmessa (PhD), a transport geography lecturer at Addis Abeba University for more than a decade, believes that the city’s initiative is commendable as the volunteers play a significant role in reducing traffic accidents.

“The introduction of a railway system should have alleviated traffic accidents by encouraging the use of a safe public transportation system,” he said. “Until a time that the city comes with a more permanent solution though, the traffic volunteers are indispensable to ensuring traffic safety.”









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