29 March 2013

A Bus Rapid Transit Solution Could be Faster and Cheaper for Colombo, Capital of Sri Lanka - Amal Kumarage, a professor from Moratuwa University

28th March 2013, www.lankabusinessonline.com

A bus rapid transit (BRT) solution could be implemented faster and at a much lower cost while more capital intensive rail based Metro systems are built, to prevent gridlock in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, officials said.

Amal Kumarage, a professor from Sri Lanka's Moratuwa University and an expert on transport that the share of public transport had dropped below 50 percent in Colombo from 80 percent in the late 1980s.

"So we need to do something radically different to make public transport have the appeal that will make it more attractive," Kumarage told the LBR-LBO chief executive officers forum, made up senior corporate executives in Colombo.

"We must ensure that the capacity that is needed in the future comes from quality public transport," Kumarage said.

"And where is that quality. It comes from bus rapid transit, metros. These are the technologies out there and I do not think, retrofitting and improving what we have will get us there."

The share of bus transport in Sri Lanka was expected to drop from 55 in 2011 to 41 percent in 2021, rail would be flat at 5 percent and private transport would rise from 26 percent to 38 percent.

Kumarage said Sri Lanka probably had the best transport network in Asia outside Japan in the 1950s but it weakened after that.

The state has been investing heavily in transport in recent years, but mostly in the road network roads around the country, especially rebuilding a system that was under-invested during a 30-year war.

Kumarage said the state had been investing about 3.0 percent of gross domestic product in transport and the private sector 2.0 percent, which was good.

But urban congestion cannot be solved by roads alone, Kumarage said. In congested areas like Colombo public transport should not be allowed to drop below 50 percent, based on the international experience he said.

Colombo's traffic is expected to slow down further as incomes rise and people drop low quality bus transport. Officials say there is an excess of buses in some areas.

Colombo's average traffic speed may drop to 17.4 kilometres per hour from 21.6 in 2021 and it may drop to 9.1 kilometres in 2031 unless public transport was changed.

Strategies such as congestion pricing could be introduced, which Rohan Samarajiva, head of LirneAsia, a regional policy research body, said

But before that, people needed an alternative system to use.

D S Jayaweera from the ministry of finance said authorities had devised a system to start a bus rapid transit route several years ago but it had not been done.

Kumarage said bus rapid systems in India and South America, which use special lanes had brought quick results.

The can be implemented for a lower cost and even reversed later.

Kumarage said several BRT routes could be developed in Colombo with minimal investments to clear bottlenecks. Though parts of six lane roads have been used, parts of four lane roads have been successfully converted to BRT routes he said.

Helped by the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) Sri Lanka is launching a study for a transport master plan for the Greater Colombo region, with JICA being ready to finance the first section of a mass rapid transit (MRT) system.

MRT systems are however can cost 30 million US dollars or more per kilometer to build though they are very efficient at moving large numbers of people fast. Mass rail systems could be combined with BRTs.

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