New vistas in transport | Daily News

New vistas in transport

According to statistics released by the Department of Motor Traffic (DMT), a staggering 11,000 vehicles have been registered islandwide last week alone including around 7,500 motorcycles, the cheapest motorized vehicle in the market. For a country which has a population of only 20 million, we have around 7.3 million vehicles in circulation.

There are two reasons why people rush to buy vehicles - at least a two-wheeler: First, a vehicle is still a status symbol and literally a sign of upward mobility; Second, public transport is in bad shape in many areas, which necessitates some form of private transport. Vehicle ownership will continue to rise at least until we address the latter issue, though there are increasing signs that the authorities are serious on having a better public transport system islandwide.

Given that it is impossible to curb vehicle ownership in a democracy, the next best alternative is to ensure better traffic management and safety on the roads. The biggest impediment for road safety happens to be the ubiquitous three wheeler, of which there are around 1.2 million units all over the country. The three wheeler is a fundamentally unsafe vehicle responsible for many accidents. Three wheeler drivers make matters worse by cutting through traffic lanes, making abrupt, unsignalled u-turns on a dime, picking up passengers willy-nilly and generally breaching every known road rule.

Many transport planners have argued that three wheelers should be gradually phased out over the next 15-20 years. In the meantime, higher duties and a Loan To Value (LTV) ratio of 25:75 mean that many people are unable to muster the amount of cash needed to purchase a new three wheeler which costs around Rs.750,000. This laudable initiative has cut down monthly three wheeler registrations to around 1,200, from around 12,000 per month just three years ago.

Now the DMT has made another move which could hasten the demise of the three wheeler. It has allowed the registration of motorized quadricycles, following Amendment No.18 of the Motor Traffic Act of 2017. The quadricycle is finally here after a long, arduous testing and certification process, being an entirely new category of vehicles for Sri Lanka.

The Quadricycle is a proper four-door vehicle with a steering wheel and small engine (215 CC) that is much safer and comfortable than a three-wheeler (Obviously, quadricycles are not as safe as a normal car due to structural limitations). It is a so-called Middle of the Market (MoM) alternative that slots somewhere between the three wheeler and Nano/Alto class small car.

They are small, light (450 Kg) and fuel-efficient vehicles (36 Km/litre) intended to be a small urban vehicle fit for crowded streets. It is also an attractive option for mobility impaired users. Already popular in Europe, motorized quadricycles are easy to handle; they usually have a CVT transmission and require comparatively low maintenance compared to other passenger cars. With a top speed of 70 km/h, they will be ideal for “last-mile” city runs and are unlikely to be permitted on expressways.

Quadricycles will be introduced almost simultaneously in Sri Lanka and India, where safety concerns and certification delays held up the launch. Ten units have already been registered in Sri Lanka under a totally new category/series (GAA onwards) prior to the full launch. This is a victory for everyone concerned about the safety (or lack thereof) of three wheelers. But the biggest draw will be the price which is believed command only a slight premium over the three wheelers. If the quadricycle becomes popular as expected, the death knell will certainly be sounded for the three wheeler. Manufacturers are keen to market the quadricycle as a family vehicle that will be appealing to families who cannot muster the money needed to buy a car but who do not want a three wheeler either. Many affluent persons are also likely to buy it as a second or third car for occasional runs. This category of vehicle will no doubt transform Sri Lanka’s transport landscape in a big way.

At the other end of the scale lies another vehicle category that has also just won permission to operate – motor homes. They are literally gaining traction in the country among the rich and more importantly, among tour operators. This will be a whole new way of promoting inland travel for tourists and even well-heeled domestic travellers. Over a period of time, the authorities should contemplate building motor home/caravan infrastructure facilities such as caravan parks, like those found in other countries.

But we must be alive to an ongoing seismic change in car ownership patterns all over the world. Ride hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are making car ownership redundant with their 24/7 on-app availability. Carmakers are also introducing plans whereby one can “subscribe” to a car on a monthly basis. The motor car industry is already predicting autonomous cars that will pick up and drop off passengers at their preferred destinations by say, 2035. That, along with enhanced public transport facilities, will make car ownership passé in the next few decades.


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More accidents more pollution global island warming. More laziness less fit more obese more heart disease diabetes


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