Sri Lanka ‘Megapolis’ transport plan pits BRT against LRT

ECONOMYNEXT – A preference for Light Rail Transit (LRT) over Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in a plan to modernise public transport within a proposed ‘Megapolis’ covering the Sri Lankan capital Colombo and suburbs is being challenged by experts.

Western Region Megapolis Planning Project officials say light rail was chosen over bus rapid transit as it would be better able to cater to growing demand.

But critics say studies found BRT viable to cater to immediate demand growth and could easily be replaced with light rail in future.

The new government has proposed creating a megapolis in the Western Province, covering the Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara districts to accommodate about 9.1 million people by 2035, with the Colombo as the core.

Dimantha De Silva, consultant and leader of the Western Region Megapolis Planning Project transport team, said they are taking an integrated approach, with transport and land use planning going together.

Light rail has been given priority over bus rapid transit in some parts of the city as it is more viable in meeting future requirements, he told a seminar on the transport component of the megapolis project held by Verité Research, a think-tank.

Previous transport plans had considered modes like monorail and LRT but gave priority for BRT as population densities in Colombo, and hence passenger loads, were not high enough to justify the costs of building and operating the former.

But De Silva, also a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Moratuwa, said projected population densities and distribution had changed under the proposed megapolis plan which divides the city into zones for different economic activity.

Under the new megapolis proposal, BRT would be inadequate to meet future demand for transportation within the city and land acquisition costs to provide right of way also high, he said.

An LRT, selected over monorail, as monorail systems operate only overhead, while costs can be reduced with an LRT network at ground level, would be better able to meet growing traffic demand.





However, experts from the Moratuwa University and Road Development Authority, said bus rapid transit or BRT should not be ruled out especially since a proper feasibility had not yet been done on the light rail proposal.

They said modernising the bus service would be quicker and cheaper than building a more expensive light rail system.

T. Sivakumar, heads of the Department of Transport and Logistics Management in the Moratuwa University Faculty of Engineering, asked how if BRT was ruled out for not having right of way and land acquisition costs, the same difficulty did not arise with LRT.

Lalithasiri Gunaruwan, transport economist and Senior Lecturer in Economics at University of Colombo, said the country’s capital constraints should also be considered when planning transportation systems.

An LRT would be 10 times more costly than BRT and would need 10 times the ridership, he said.

Amal Kumarage,  senior professor of the Moratuwa University’s Department of Transport & Logistics Management, said the problem was not merely one of BRT versus LRT but that the entire megapolis transport plan was inadequate and not professional.

There were “150-odd” BRTs operating around the world and the original proposal had shown that not only BRT, but bus priority lanes too were viable.

All transport corridors in and out of the city should have different and parallels modes of transport, built as a multi-modal network.

“By the time we do a feasibility study and start building (an LRT) on the road centre median which will disrupt traffic flow on 75 km of Colombo’s roads, Colombo would be dead and buried,” Kumarage said.

Road Development Authority (RDA) studies had found road widening and land acquisition is possible and even costed them for a BRT, he said.

Transport experts criticising the preference for LRT say they worry that megapolis planners are going for “supplier-driven” projects, without proper feasibility studies.

Hitachi Corporation and Taisei Corporation of Japan, which before China came along did more than any other country to modernise Sri Lanka’s port and airport infrastructure with aid and soft loans, have both expressed interest in a monorail in Colombo.
(COLOMBO, June 02 2016)

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