'An efficient transport system vital to Colombo's success as a city'

By Hiran H. Senewiratne

"Sri Lanka's inadequate public transport system was largely to blame for the huge rise in vehicle imports and the longer-term consequences of failing to address this issue could be serious, Head of Investments, Western Region Megapolis Project Nayana Mawilmada said.

"The introduction of mass transit is critical and decisions on how to incorporate a suitable public transport system, including different systematic tiers of service, linked with land use under a single authority, will determine Colombo's success or failure as a city over the next several years, he said delivering the John Diandas Memorial Lecture organized by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, Sri Lanka. The subject of the lecture was "Exploring the nexus between land use and transport." The lecture was held at the Kingsbury, last Thursday.

Mawilmada said that overhauling the current system, including Colombo's "very fragmented" bus service, presented a formidable social challenge. Further, Western province urban development was happening in an unsustainable manner, due to uncontrolled development of cities. This has a negative impact on the transport system as well, he said.

"There are around 8,000 buses in Colombo, mostly operating as small enterprises, and studies indicate we need only around 4,000 to run an efficient sector. If we introduce mass transit, that number is likely to reduce further. The government will need to be involved in redeploying and retraining some of those bus operators, Mawilmada explained.

"Due to under-utilization of lands in the Western province the prices of available lands are going up. Further, access to mortgage is very low compared to other countries in the region, Mawilmada said. "This has resulted in booming of land prices in the region."

"Public transport’s share of journeys in the capital is also expected to rise on the back of population growth, with estimates forecasting that 60 percent of daily motorized trips in the capital will be made via public transport in 2030. In 2013 that number stood at 4m, or 52 percent of the daily share, the speaker said.

"The megalopolis development plan is expected to be implemented in stages and help position Colombo as a competitive global city, he added.

"In the meantime, upgrades to the bus system remain the most viable short-term strategy to easing the country’s transport woes, given cost constraints for more ambitious projects, it was pointed out.

"Bus service remains the dominant form of public transport, accounting for nearly half of daily motorised journeys in the capital. Services are provided by both the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB), a government entity with 6268 buses in operation in 2015 transporting over 770,000 passengers, and a larger sprawling private sector."

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