Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Finally! A solution to the mess in the public transport sector

Two and a half month Presidential initiative set to take off by June 2016!


As the entire country is aware, the public transport sector has gone from bad to worse over the past decade or so. Currently we have approximately 20,000 private buses and approximately 5,500 SLCTB buses plying the roads. Anyone who has used these buses knows that they are filled to bursting at rush-hour during which time they race each other to collect as many passengers as they can. At other times they crawl along at snail’s pace hoping to fill up the buses through that trick. With very few passengers on the roads at night, nighttime public transport is non-existent simply because it is uneconomical for operators. To say that the public is severely, impossibly inconvenienced is to put it mildly.

An increasingly desperate public had no choice but to look for alternative means of getting about. Hence the huge numbers of motorcycles, auto-rickshaws and small cars that have flowed onto the streets, congesting traffic and compounding the overall inconvenience. This trend has seen a 20% drop in public transport use from 60% to 40%. With the sharp increase in the number of vehicles on the road, the average speed of urban centers has dropped to an alarming 12km/hour. Add to this the fact that those who made the shift did so out of desperation and not because they could afford private transport and we have a national liquidity and home-economics disaster on our hands.

However, when Mr. Eric Weerawardhane, Chairman of the Central Province Transport Board introduced an innovative idea to His Excellency the President, Maithripala Sirisena, he perceived that it was in line with his mandate and saw an opportunity to solve the problem once and for all. The idea, in a nutshell, was simple and brilliant – to charge for the public bus transport service based on the number of turns a given bus does on a given route instead of the present system where the commuter is charged on an individual basis for each commute.

In that light, the President tasked the Strategic Enterprise Management Agency to inquire into possibilities based on Mr. Weerawardhane’s idea and the strategic team at SEMA headed up by its Chariman Mr. Asoka Abeygunawardhane, Dr. Don S. Jayaweera and Mr. Johann Bandaranaike conducted a 2 ½ month study after which a comprehensive, strong strategy was created.

The process was completed and officially presented to His Excellency the President Maithripala Sirisena as a pilot project on the Kadugannawa-Digana-Kandy route. If successful, it will be introduced first to the Kandy district, next to the Central Province and finally to the entire country. The proposal presentation ceremony and discussion was held today (22nd April 2016) at the Presidential Secretariat with the participation of officials of the National Transport Commission (NTC), SEMA, Provincial Public Transport Authority and the SLCTB.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva, Provincial Minister of Highways Development, Transport, Power and Energy, Housing and Construction Ediriweera Weerawardena, Deputy Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Ashoka Abeysinghe, Governor of the Central Province Niluka Ekanayaka, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Transport Board Ramal Siriwardena and the Secretary to the President P. B. Abeykoon were among those who participated in the discussion of the proposals.

President Sirisena instructed the officials to appoint a committee consists of officials of the Ministry of Transport, Sri Lanka Transport Board and the government treasury to take future actions on this new system and to have the pilot operational by June 2016.

Chairman of the Central Province Transport Board Mr. Eric Weerawardhane addressed the Training of Trainers workshop of the National Consumer Network of Sri Lanka (NCNSL) at Bandaragama and outlined the plan. 

Here, in a nutshell, is how it will work:
  • The key to the system: Regardless of the number of passengers carried by each bus, the income of a given operator is determined solely on the total number of turns (kilometers) that it plies a route on a given day. This essentially means that the commuter does not pay a given bus for using it to go from place to place. Instead, the commuter will purchase a prepaid swipe card that will allow travel for a specific number of kilometers during a specific month with the option of reloading it at will. This is similar to the way people use mobile phone services.
  • The bus (public or private) is equipped with a CCTV camera, an electronic swipe-type ticket machine and a GPS. These will monitor the transaction and the route.
  •  A communication services provider will manufacture the required reloadable swipe cards and have them as commonly available as phone cards.
  • When a passenger enters a bus, the conductor swipes the card for the distance traveled and that amount is automatically deducted from the card holder and added to the common account of the route operators.
  • At the end of the day, the route operators’ accounts are automatically credited according to the number of turns (total kilometers) that each bus has plied the route.
  • If a commuter doesn’t have a swipe card, no problem. He can enter the bus anyway and take one of two options: a) pay the single fair in cash to the conductor who will swipe his own special card into the system to record the transaction or b) purchase a swipe card from the conductor. 

The only extra requirements are the CCTV camera, the special swipe machine and the GPS and these will be provided to the operators with a three month grace period for payback where a percentage of their revenue will be deducted over that period to pay for the equipment. 

Here are the advantages:

  • This will be a zero budget initiative and will simply result in a more even distribution of the total busses available and the SEMA study clearly showed that the present fleet is quite sufficient if it is spread out over the day. 
  • No internal competition between operators there will be no racing and no slowing down to grab more passengers resulting in a reduction of congestion on the roads
  • Nighttime public transport will once again be certain since operators would like to increase the number of turns they do. 
  •  With increased regularity and significantly reduced numbers of commuters per bus, there will be a large percentage of them returning to use public transport, resulting in a reduction of overall vehicular traffic on the roads which in turn will reduce overall vehicular congestion.
  • The system makes it possible to give all sorts of concessions to regular commuters, the aged population and the disabled population.

1 comment:

  1. Why are you so concerned about 'public transport'??? Surely you don't travel by bus,right?
    Aren't you being hypocritical here?? What is the car you drive???


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