If you have any experience driving in Ulaanbaatar, you know that the most dangerous drivers are not the ones with the flashy sports cars and SUVs, but the drivers of public buses, microbuses and taxis.
Public transportation drivers in the capital are always in a hurry to make their rounds and race each other to pick up passengers at bus stops, and in doing so, they casually break traffic rules. I’ve witnessed public buses drive through red lights without hesitation, tailgate, barge into other lanes without signaling first, and speed on slippery roads. Bus drivers don’t stay within their lane and block intersections, which snowballs into traffic jams.
Why is it that drivers who are entrusted with the safety and wellbeing of the public are the most aggressive and volatile participants in Ulaanbaatar traffic? The answer is simple: they are impatient and always in a hurry.
It is no surprise, therefore, that 27 out of 37 public bus companies in the capital have had traffic collisions as of October this year. Public buses have been involved in 497 traffic collisions so far this year, including three collisions with sign posts and 64 collisions involving pedestrians. Autobus Negtgel had the worst record, with 112 traffic incidents recorded.
As of October, six people have died as a result of bus accidents, three of whom were bus passengers. In total, 157 people were injured in bus-related accidents as of October, more than half of whom were inside the bus when collisions occurred.
Last week, the Traffic Police Department issued a warning to all bus drivers to drive carefully, without violating rules and racing one another, as city roads are extremely slippery and hazardous due to heavy snow and ice built up over the course of the week. Careless driving and pedestrians running to cross roads when brakes are rendered practically useless on slippery roads is aggravating the already strenuous experience of driving in Ulaanbaatar.
Now that roads are covered in snow and ice, drivers and pedestrians have to be extra cautious. Although I haven’t seen any accidents involving buses and microbuses recently, I have witnessed many near-misses by buses, and entire streets blocked by irresponsible parking. I have witnessed several instances of microbuses endangering lives by reckless passing, speeding on slippery roads, and charging in on red lights. Some locals call microbuses “nisdeg avs” (which translates to “flying coffin”) because their drivers are considered the most reckless and inconsiderate off all who take part in city traffic. Microbuses are often old and mechanically faulty Korean vans, and are usually so crowded inside that one can hardly breathe. The only reason microbuses are still around is because they provide cheap transportation to the outermost areas of Ulaanbaatar, where public buses can’t or won’t go. A strict standard needs to be imposed on all transportation providers in Ulaanbaatar, and an immediate solution for replacing outdated and unsafe vehicles currently zooming around the city needs to be found.
Traffic Police say that are working extra hours, from 8:00 a.m. until traffic slows down at 10:00 to 11:00 at night. City maintenance workers have been clearing ice and snow off of streets at night and in the early morning hours when traffic is low, reported B.Byambadorj, head of the City Maintenance Organization. Soldiers and students have also joined in efforts to clear snow from streets.
The public has been complaining about polished stone sidewalks that cause injuries and accidents, as well as the dramatic traffic congestion in the city since snowfall intensified last week. It takes anywhere between two to three hours to reach the city center from the outer districts, and everyone is in a hurry.
Snow and cold are natural phenomena, and there isn’t much anyone can do about them. What we can do as a society, and as residents of Ulaanbaatar, is to not make everything worse when the situation is already bad enough. That means driving cautiously and responsibly, not jumping in front of cars on slippery roads, giving way when required, and understanding that everyone is in a hurry and just as frustrated us you are. What we need now is to be more conscientious, considerate, and proactive about helping each other get through bad weather and tough circumstances, instead of causing problems for others and oneself with thoughtless and selfish actions.