ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 32
Financial Times  

Business on a war footing

A couple of weeks back a Sunday Times staffer came across a very amusing incident at Nugegoda. Parked on the other side of a popular clothes store, he watched as a van parked right outside the store in a ‘designated parking slot.’ As the driver got off, a policeman walked up and blasted the driver for parking in what he called a no-parking area due to security reasons

The driver said he had parked in the allocated space outside the shop and added that he was from Deraniyagala and not familiar with new parking areas vis-à-vis the security crisis.

“I don’t care if you are from Deraniyagala, you should know parking is restricted in Colombo,” the officer shouted and ordered the vehicle out. Our colleague wanted to step in and tell the policeman that had the driver been told to politely move the vehicle, he would have done so. “I was tempted but decided against getting into an unnecessary argument,” he recalled.

Even in a state of chaos, there is a method in the madness which however is woefully lacking in the new traffic flows and parking restrictions in Colombo that have affected business and day-to-day commuting.

The Sunday Times FT reported two weeks back how the police and security authorities in a knee-jerk reaction enforced a uni-flow system at Thurstan Road following the attack on Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

No traffic planning specialists were consulted on the move. Prof Amal Kumarage, one of Sri Lanka’s foremost traffic planners from the University of Moratuwa, said as far as he was aware neither the University nor institutions such as the Road Development Authority, the Colombo Municipal Council, and the National Transport Commission were consulted before the implementation of the system. “Our university has traffic models. The system could have been simulated on the computer to see if it is viable and the public could have been spared the hassle,” he was quoted as saying.

Just like rubbing salt to the wound – and without consultation once again with the experts --, police have enforced uni-flow systems on sections of the Galle Road and Duplication Road resulting in further chaos soon after the New Year.

While it has eased bottlenecks at some junctions it has opened out new ones like the problem at the Duplication Road-Bauddhaloka Mawatha junction, etc.

The cost of this chaos is rising to the taxpayer all the time. Roundabouts are being dismantled and (centre) medians are being removed to allow a smoother flow of traffic. But shouldn’t a proper study have been done – with the system being simulated on a university computer to find out the benefits and weaknesses – before breaking up the roads? Can you restore those roundabouts if the experiment – if one is to call it – fails? If so at who’s cost? It’s still not too late to do a study and iron out any flaws in the uni-flow system. There was however praise from some motorists who called a radio station and said the new scheme helped them to get to work early.

Senior police officials say motorists and the public would get used to it in time and this is nothing new because such schemes have proved to be effective in most developing countries. But have these higher ups asked themselves as to whether we have enough roads to be liberal in road use and have free-ways just like in the West?

For that matter how many new highways have been built in the city apart from the Baseline Road stretch ? Do we have enough roads to meet the increasing number of new vehicles that get onto the roads annually? Statistics show that the number of new vehicles on the road has risen by nearly 310 % in less than five years from 72,600 newly registered vehicles in 2001 to 223,800 in 2005.

Parking is also a major problem with Duplication Road traders steadily losing business due to parking restrictions. The same will apply to stretches of Galle Road from Bambalapitiya to Fort.

This is not the only worry that businesses in the city have. With the military planning to wrest control of the East and then oust the Tigers from the north, it is going to be a year where business would have to be placed on a war footing.

A more war/less peace scenario as expected this year would deter investments, see less industrial expansion and focus more on the services sector leading to an expansion in credit. Businesses should be prepared for a period of war and less reconciliation between the government and the LTTE.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.