Sri Lanka transport reforms seen delayed by politics

ECONOMYNEXT – A Sri Lankan transport expert has called for a change in the country’s policy on vehicle imports saying excess capacity in many forms of road transport and unsuitable equipment raised costs with reforms delayed by politics.

The country was spending 500 billion rupees importing mostly road vehicles and another 300 billion rupees on fuel imports, said Amal Kumarage, Senior Professor of the Moratuwa University’s Department Transport & Logistics Management.

“We are mortgaging our future taking loans. It’s a policy that needs to be reversed,” he said. “Also there’s poor productivity on most vehicles – they are not productively used.”

The services provided by three-wheeler auto rickshaws can be done with just one-third of the existing fleet.

“It costs only six rupees per kilometer for the three-wheeler to travel, yet people pay 45 rupees. The difference is the inefficiency of the driver waiting just to have 20-30 kilometers of commercial running,” Kumarage told a recent forum.

“We have excess capacity in equipment like buses, trucks and three-wheelers. We have more equipment than what we require and not much of good quality.”

Kumarage said it was a politically sensitive issue with about 100,000 people in the land passenger  transport industry and nearly a million driving three-wheelers and taxis.

“A large number of people are dependent on transport for a living and that’s politically sensitive,” he said. “But to provide more money in the hands of transport providers is to increase inefficiency.”

There also also an oligopolistic price system in transport with 2-3 operators powerful enough to set prices, from big players to three-wheelers at junctions, making the whole system less efficient.

The country must look at spending less on fuel and reducing private vehicle imports and improve public transport so people don’t have to use private vehicles, Kumarage told the forum by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Sri Lanka.
Vehicle standards also need to be improved to reduce accidents and emissions.





“Ninety percent of vehicles coming here would not be allowed in a developed country,” Kumarage said.

“The quality of public transport is poor with railways 75 years behind its time, buses 25-30 years behind.”

Sri Lanka needs to ensure transport becomes an asset for development rather than a liability.

“Today transport has become more of a liability,” Kumarage said. “In 2014 we spent around 11 percent of the value of what we do just for mobility – not even logistics – just movement of people.

“So how can an economy be efficient when 11 percent of our effort is spent on just mobility? When mobility costs decrease exports will be more competitive.”  (Colombo/December 06 2015)

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