Business Times

Transport system a curse in Sri Lanka say industry stakeholders

By Sunimalee Dias

Inefficiency, corruption and malpractices are the call of the day in the Sri Lankan transport system resulting in massive losses to the public at large. Losses amount to Rs.200 billion annually due to the current system in place where a lopsided regime prevails with public buses used for political rallies, lack of subsidies for private sector, increased import of transport modes, delays, no proper timetables, less frequency in rural areas and lack of comfort.

These observations were made by a panel of speakers at the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung panel discussion on “Public Transport in Sri Lanka – Blessing or Curse” held at the Taj Samudra last week.Incompetence is key in the public institutions that run these transport network as those appointed to key positions are most often politicians overlooking any professionals in the sector, Moratuwa University Civil Engineering - Transportation Engineering Division Department Prof. Amal S. Kumarage said.

While public transport provided means to gain access to rural areas and other key points for a traveler state enterprises remain inefficient, he said. He pointed out that the system was operating without any timetables and buses plying on routes as they wish, racing and causing accidents to happen.

Public Bus Owners Association President Gemunu Wijeratne said that with 54 bus companies in the country today the system was made up of 18,000 private buses and 4,000 state buses with two regulators, both of whom he alleged were “mismanaging.” He pointed out that the system was losing to the tune of Rs.200 billion and the number of buses have not increased in the country.

Further, Mr. Wijeratne said Rs.25 billion was incurred as losses due to the delays and there was a lack of modern technology in the current system that is required. He noted that while the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) buses would receive a subsidy of Rs.8.4 billion they would not be beneficiaries to any of these. When Transport Ministry Senior Assistant Secretary M.M.S.S.B. Yalegama pointed out the value of the state run buses noting its service in rural areas and operating at a loss due to which such subsidies were required, Mr. Wijeratne was to dismiss this.

The latter questioned where all these buses were on May 1 noting that these were used for May Day rallies by politicians and even he was requested to send some for which he had asked to be paid.
“If we want to develop the public transport system we have to heed the orders by the Supreme Court,” Mr. Wijeratne pointed out noting that they had taken certain key issues to court.

Criticizing the current system further, he noted that the government was still unable to come up with proper timetables to ensure buses ply effectively on the routes. “In a country where there is no timetable how is it possible to develop this sector,” he queried. Mr. Yalegama speaking on the occasion said the use of the public transportation system was diminished to be below the standards of some people’s lifestyles. He explained that those travelling by private cars would be less frequent in travelling by buses due to the poor treatment by bus conductors.

It was pointed out that people should foster the use of car pools in a bid to reduce the congestion at least.

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