Plans to align transport supply to economic strategy

A new bus policy to consolidate the private bus transport business is expected to begin by year end under the Sahasara Bus Reforms Project following a pilot project carried out in Kandy. Highly placed government sources told that a pilot project in the private bus transport business where owners would become suppliers of vehicles and pool revenues was successful.
This project carried out under planned reforms in the transport sector aims at improving public transportation as an answer to worsening traffic jams.The outcomes of the pilot project would be implemented across the island through the proposed project. The Sahasara pilot project has shown the way to solve the country’s transport issues in the short-term.
Responding to a question from the Business Observer, Prof. Amal Kumarage of the Department of Transport and Logistics, University of Moratuwa said the University of Moratuwa designed the project merging international trends and local conditions at the request of the Central Province Transport Authority and the Strategic Enterprise Management Agency (SEMA).On the other hand, bus employees are generally in the lowest strata of employment who have no choices for career wise improvement. They have no regular salary, no contract, and no additional benefits. Industry offers no employment securities, resulting in poor work attitudes and customer care.
Prof. Kumarage noted that “We need to change this image by providing more stable forms of employment to them with benefits such as contracted employment, monthly pay, life coaching, EPF/ETF benefits, loan facilities and insurance cover.”
Delivering the keynote address at the International Conference on Research for Transport and Logistics Industry (R4TLI) in Colombo recently, Prof. Kumarage said the project tested 350 buses with 268 owners on two corridors which carried 100,000 passengers a day.Subsequently, this brought a revenue of Rs. 600 million a year by pooling revenue from these buses before paying bus owners on distance travelled. Time savings from improved bus speeds alone were Rs. 1.3 million a day. Following the success of this project, it got the green light to expand within the entire Central Province.
Prof. Kumarage said although the country needs to develop railways and LRT to provide better transport facilities to people, they need heavy investments which are almost impossible at this juncture without holding up other important investments. “These could have been done some 10 years ago. So we are almost left with nothing but improving bus transport facilities if we are to overcome the current transport issues in the next 2-3 years.” About 70 percent of households still regularly use buses.
Recent studies and projects such as the Bus Priority Lanes have shown that bus improvement project implementation can be done fairly quickly and at a very affordable cost to the country. To improve quality in bus transport which is the key to its revival, government intervention is needed, Prof . Kumarage said. “The private bus industry is scattered severely - it is impossible to improve quality from bottom up. It is like expecting pavement hawkers to improve quality of their business.”
Though operators’ status quo dominates and they resist change, there is affordable technology to disrupt this status quo. Also when there are 19,000 buses with 16,000 owners, the regulators’ primary attention is on constantly solving conflict between operators and they are unable to improve services. Therefore, when we pool revenue, where the owners become suppliers of buses, the intense competition turns into a healthy and modern business environment and resource efficiency.