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Transport beyond flyovers

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The opening of the Rajagiriya flyover is expected to ease congestion but the reality is that Colombo needs an integrated public transport system to provide comprehensive solutions to traffic. Until people give up their personal vehicles, they are the traffic.  

Public transport in Sri Lanka has long been a problem with commuters facing many hardships. Prolonged politicisation, strong unions, corruption, inefficiency and mismanagement have been cancers that have nibbled the transport system into a loss-making sector for the Government. It is astounding how government buses are constantly running into losses even with subsidised fuel while the private sector manages to run around five times as many buses profitably.

Clearly there are many complications within the transport system, one being the many institutions that manage it at the national and provincial level. Most of these organisations have their jurisdictions overlapping, leaving the national authorities with little control over rural bus services. This has been one of the main reasons for transport services to remain disorganised for so long.

One would imagine that the most obvious step would be to have timetables incorporating private and public buses so that commuters can get to their destinations efficiently. However, that does not seem to have materialised as yet. To be fair by the private bus owners they have been lobbying for this for several years but little has been done. Improving the quality of buses and discouraging people from driving has also failed to be implemented.  

Sri Lanka has invested billions in improving transport infrastructure in the country. However, service levels remain poor. Launching an integrated timetable is not enough by itself. There must be special follow-up programs taken to make sure that the buses stick to the schedules that they are given and whether they prove to be as efficient in reality as they did on paper. This aside there is the ever-present desire to make the venture profitable or at least make it break even so that more losses are not added on to public coffers.

Transport is an important part of economic development but authorities must pay greater heed to maximising the resources that they already have rather than focusing all attention on building more highways or flyovers. At the end of the day traffic is a negative cost to the economy, and citizens must contribute to keeping it as efficient as possible. This means that public transport should not be abused for elections or other purposes, a point that should be better remembered in the upcoming weeks. In the long run implementing a Bus Rapid Transport system and integrating it with an efficient rail system would have marked benefits. Even though the Government has outlined plans to spend billions of dollars on a Light Rail Transit system it would be years before this will actually benefit thousands of people living in the suburbs. Government-backed park and ride schemes as well as stronger efforts to increase awareness and find alternatives are immediately needed. If commuters are provided with better service then they would be more open to leaving their vehicles at home.

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