Improving public transport | Daily News


Improving public transport

A rise in transport costs was inevitable in the aftermath of the recent fuel price hike. Diesel, which is used for both goods and passenger transport vehicles, went up by Rs. 14 per litre. Given this increase, the public braced for a fare hike, which usually happens around June every year anyway.

The private bus owners have demanded a 10 percent fare hike, but the Government has agreed to a 6.56 percent rise. The Government has to balance the interests of both bus operators and the commuters, who are already burdened by other factors at play in the overall cost of living scenario. This has led to an impasse with bus operators threatening to strike if the 10 percent fare hike is not granted.

As the private bus operators say, the fare hike is not the only factor that should be considered here. The costs of spare parts, tyres, lubricants, servicing etc. have to be considered too. But to give credit where it is due, this Government has granted many concessions and incentives for the private bus industry and the proposed fare hike has taken this into consideration. A nearly 7 percent fare hike is a reasonable compromise that will help bus owners to cover their added expenses without burdening the commuters too much.

The private bus owners act as if they provide a perfect service to the public, but they do not. The most horrendous shortcoming is the appalling lack of discipline among private bus crew. A large number of fatal accidents are caused by private buses driven recklessly by poorly trained drivers. They “race” each other to collect more passengers, while flouting all road rules. From running red lights to dangerous overtaking, they perform breakneck maneovoures that sometimes defy logic and even physics. And most, if not all, private bus crews are downright discourteous to passengers, treating them as mere “10 Rupee pieces” (“Dahaye Keli”) and pushing and shoving them from one end to the other in the bus. They also issue tickets very rarely (despite a law making it compulsory) and conveniently forget to give the balance on most occasions. The music played on board is frankly, atrocious and deafening. They literally make hay while the sun shines and disappear by around 7 p.m., from most routes, leaving commuters stranded. It is the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) buses that come to the rescue of these passengers.

Indeed, it is by strengthening the SLTB that the authorities can challenge the private bus industry. Right now, the odds are heavily stacked against the SLTB because there are around 15,000 private buses against the SLTB’s 6,000 odd fleet. But there is a large number of buses at SLTB depots islandwide which have been grounded due to the lack of minor spare parts. If this problem can be attended to, at least another 2,000 SLTB buses can be re-deployed on routes islandwide. The Government should import more buses for the SLTB, including super luxury A/C buses and low floor city buses.

In fact, the Government has announced plans to initially purchase and import around 50 such buses that will operate on electivity for urban usage. This is a commendable move as many city commuters now avoid the overcrowded private buses if they can. If the SLTB can offer a cleaner, more comfortable and less crowded bus service, then many more commuters will climb on board. As an added bonus, some of them may opt to leave their cars at home and ride the bus. This will help save fuel and also reduce air pollution in the long run. To make the bus ride even more attractive, the Government should introduce the proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system without delay.

The Government must also encourage private bus owners to import electric buses, which are now manufactured widely, by granting duty and tax concessions. Many cities around the world already have electric buses doing regular runs- the best example is China’s Shenzhen, with 16,000 electric buses. Dramatic declines in battery costs and improvements in performance, including expanded driving range, have made electric buses a viable alternative to diesel-powered and other fossil fuel buses.

The savings are huge - The Chicago Transit Authority recently estimated that each electric transit bus in its fleet saves the city US$ 25,000 (Approx. Rs. 4 million) in fuel costs every year. Electric buses still command a premium, but this will decrease over the next 2-3 years. Many cities already have huge solar powered facilities for charging the buses, which makes them completely self-sufficient.

Going forward, the goods transport industry too must be encouraged to embrace electric trucks which can already cover more than 100 Km on a single charge. These are already available or will soon be available from manufacturers such as Volvo, Tesla, Fuso, Mack, Dongfeng, Arrival and Peterbilt. They have much the same advantages outlined above. Since electric trucks are virtually silent, they will not bother people even if used for night-time operations. The public and goods transport landscape is changing in line with modern trends and challenges and we should adapt soon.

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