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Mon, 27 April 2015 02:11:44
Sri Lanka's supreme attempt to curb pollution in a transport hub
29 Oct, 2007 10:56:58
By Rohan Samarajiva
Oct 29, 2007 (LBO) - The Supreme Court is going to do to traffic in Colombo what it did to Year One admissions to popular schools. It has ordered the submission of an action plan to reduce air pollution caused by vehicles in Colombo city by mid-November 2007.
Presumably, it will then hand down fine-grained guidelines for the control of vehicular traffic in the city, as it did regarding school admission. We can then expect speeches in Parliament, hand wringing about who is actually running the country, and even more difficulty in getting from point to point in the city.

Some clues have already been given about the guidelines that will emanate from the highest court. According to the Daily Mirror of 15 October 2007: “The Chief Justice said that vehicles get congested in Pettah and a new traffic system should be introduced to stop all vehicles coming into Colombo city.”

“He suggested that vehicles should be stopped at the entrance to the city and a system should be introduced to shift the passengers into the city. The bench also suggested a system of converting vehicles in to gas to reduce air pollution. The Chief Justice said the government was losing Rs. 50 million every year due to the waste of fuel in CTB buses.”

Managing traffic congestion and the accompanying pollution is a perennial problem that bedevils all major cities in the world. They spend vast amounts on studies to come up with solutions, but we in Sri Lanka can avoid all that trouble and expense: we have obiter dicta from the Supreme Court.


It appears that the Guidelines will come down hard on buses. “Everyone” knows that the vehicles that congest Pettah are buses. If they don’t come to Pettah, there will be less congestion and, therefore, less pollution, the reasoning goes.

In addition, the Chief Justice states that government-owned buses (only 44 per cent of the bus fleet) are polluting more because they do not switch off their engines.

Why don’t CTB buses switch off their engines, while private buses do? Possibly, because no one cares about costs at the CTB. They always run at a loss because the government covers their losses.

According to the Central Bank, “Despite recent increases in bus fares, the SLTB continued to operate at losses. In keeping with the increase in bus fares and the adding of new buses to the fleet, the total revenue of the SLTB increased by 20 per cent to Rs.12,424 million in 2006. However, with expenditure rising due to increases in fuel prices and wage bills, the operating losses increased marginally to Rs 2,457 million in 2006.”

That is, 6.73 million rupees a day in 2006. If they had listened to the Chief Justice, the losses would have been Rs 6.59 million each day (Rs 2,407 million a year).

Anyway, why would they start shutting of their engines now when they did not all these years? The solution is to create incentives for reducing costs and increasing revenues.

There is no need to invent such a system: it’s called capitalism. How you create those incentives is called privatization.

But let us get to the main issue: the insistence on bringing buses to Pettah. According to the Guidelines likely to come down from Hulftsdorp, buses will be prohibited from coming to Pettah from any direction.

So a person wishing to go to Minuwangoda from Kalutara will have to come to, say, Katubedda or a point outside Colombo, then “be shifted” into the city on something other than a bus (say an electric-powered golf cart that does not exude polluting emissions).

By some means other than a bus (a non-bus in short), such person will make her way to, say, Jaela, outside the city. Then she will get into the Minuwangoda bus and reach her destination.

Contrast this with the method used today: Kalutara to Pettah by bus; get off the bus and find the Minuwangoda bus; get in that bus; get off at the destination.

So it seems that there is a reason why buses congregate in Pettah. It is a transportation hub, an interchange. It makes sense; it saves money and time.

Even if there is a viable non-bus method of moving large numbers of people within the city of Colombo, it still would be more convenient to have a hub somewhere in the city, where all the non-buses congregate, allowing the passengers to transfer easily.

Cities grow around transportation hubs. It is nonsensical to propose moving transportation hubs out of cities. To do so would be to gut the existing cities.

Of course, new cities will emerge around the new transportation hubs. And will prosper, until someone stomps them out in the name of pollution or something else.


There is no mention of cars, three wheelers and motor cycles in the obiter dictum. The Court’s focus on buses is surprising because they constitute only one per cent of new vehicle registrations. Over 50 per cent of new registrations are of motor cycles, followed by three wheelers (over 20 per cent) and private cars (over eight per cent).

The Central Bank does not give cumulative figures. The National Transport Commission has just established a data and statistics unit and “is in the process of establishing a comprehensive database.” So we have to work with assumptions.

Assuming that all vehicle types go to the scrap heap after more or less the same time in service, we can conclude that the distribution of vehicle types in the overall stock mirrors that among new registrations.

This indicates that over half the vehicles on the road are motor cycles and that close to 30 per cent are cars and three wheelers. Buses constitute only one per cent.

Many motor cycles and most three wheelers use highly polluting two-stroke engines. While they may consume less fuel (because most three-wheelers spend their time parked), they emit more pollutants per liter than cars.

Therefore, for purposes of calculation it may be reasonable to simply add them up. This would suggest that cars, three-wheelers and motor cycles as a whole amount to around 80 per cent of the vehicle stock.

Even if a bus is five times more polluting than a car/three-wheeler/motor cycle, the overall contribution of buses to pollution has to be way below that of the cars/three-wheelers/motor cycles.

Therefore, it is surprising that attention is focused on buses which constitute only one per cent of the vehicle stock, while ignoring the 80 per cent.

The Chief Justice also mentions, obiter, gas conversion. Obviously, he has heard of the famous decision of the Indian Supreme Court, in response to a similar PIL suit [Public Interest Litigation], ordering the conversion of all of Delhi’s buses to CNG.

The first thing to note is the acronym CNG. Not very familiar, is it?

That is because Sri Lanka does not have CNG or Compressed Natural Gas like India and Bangladesh. What we have is LPG or Liquefied Petroleum Gas, which is a by-product of manufacturing petrol from petroleum.

All the LPG in Sri Lanka is imported and is subject to fluctuations in the world market for crude oil. Converting bus fleets to LPG in Sri Lanka may therefore not make as much sense as what was done in India where they are able to use domestically produced, low-cost and low-emission CNG.

None of the above

Pollution imposes costs on third parties. Congestion does too. A good way to get the polluters/congestion creators to pay for these costs is congestion pricing. The new security gateways that are being built in places like Katubedda can easily be converted into electronic toll gates.

More on the mechanics of this at Choices: Penny 4 U

Depending on the level of congestion in the city’s roadways, the congestion fee can fluctuate: high during rush hour and free during night time, for example. This will create incentives for ride sharing and for the use of public transport instead of cars and three-wheelers (that is, if the sensible thing is done and public transport including buses are fully exempted from congestion pricing).

Congestion pricing is successfully used in Singapore and London to reduce congestion (and pollution) by moving people into public transport. We do not have a good public transport system that people can move to, which causes a bit of a problem.

However, the solution is to take the revenues of congestion pricing and dedicate it to the building of an efficient modern public transport system. It can also be used to retire old diesel-smoke-belching buses and replace them with new and less-polluting vehicles. Let’s use that money to get two-stroke engines off the road, without confiscating the life savings of the three-wheeler owners.

Giving a general direction that congestion pricing should be introduced in order to create disincentives for the creation of congestion and pollution would be a good way for the Supreme Court to rule, instead of trying to micro-manage urban transport policy.

Please, no social experiments with transportation hubs.

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9. sujeeva Nov 16
Recently I saw a paper ad published by the government asking for proposals of alternative fuel vehicle developments. This is a silly joke when all the automobile manufactories are spending billions to develop the same and still struggling with a practical solution.

Reduce the traffic. It will save you 50% I trust. The Colombo’s one way plan is very successful solution and why not widespread it?

Also I fully agree with the toll. Pay for the road usage. In other countries they reduce the import taxes and tax on usage. What we are doing here is we charge customs duty for road development but nothing happens.

Also all our politicians and high ranking officers fly all over the world and see developed public transport systems. For gods sake do not try to invent anything newly since you are not capable of, at least please copy the systems suitable and start from the point where British stopped.

8. Rohan Samarajiva Nov 05
In an interview with Lankadeepa (5 November 2007) Mr S.B. Dissanayake, a populist politician who has traversed the distance from the Communist Party to the UNP, states clearly that Minister Alahapperuma's plans to improve railway and bus transport services provided by the government without fundamental reforms are bound to fail.

Here is a clear test. If a dynamic politician with the fullest backing of the President cannot fix government-owned transport services, there is no alternative but to engage in fundamental reforms, reducing government control.

7. j Oct 31
The cause for privatization and capitazation is the result of political buffoonery and bad policies made by "stupid muts" who have handled Sri Lanka's leadership since independence, no doubt chosen by an extremely stupid population, no wonder Sri Lanka is down in the dumps.

Good opportunities come and go but chances have not been taken to develop the nation, but funds sent by doner agencies are grabbed by a few, shrewed and corrupt agents in the system of government and political structure, who have siphoned out quite a sizable amount of funds into offshore funds which are absolutely impossible to investigate and are also protected by the Laws of Sri Lanka.

Some of these individuals also have Land and properties abroad.

I strongly endorse that all of Sri Lankan administration become privatized and managed privately as private companies, and also placing every Sri Lankan on the tax structure, every Sri Lankan must pay tax whether it be government servant, public servant, or a private, mercantile employee.

Sri Lanka's policies of governance, administration, and others such as education policies need to suit the requirements of the global village that we are now Living in, It is also important that all sentimental issues be expelled from all administration as sentimental issues belong to the dark ages and not acceptable for proper development.

Sri Lanka needs to change in many ways, the sad thing is that if Sri Lanka continues it's current trend the country will definitely stand isolated and this, Sri Lanka just cannot afford as it's debt keeps on increasing more and more day by day.

Sri Lanka has recieved much from donors and donor agencies but with a pay back, of a small pecentage. however what the people do not know is that certain loans are provided providing that Sri Lanka provides collateral along with interest as repayment.

No doner will provide handouts for nothing, and the best colateral is land, properties, and forest reserves etc.

6. Luxman Siriwardena Oct 31
When the politicians and policy makers take no policy decisions and actions all kind of jokers make noises, every body and nobody become experts in every field other than their own.

Appreciate some one is there to mention words such as privatisation, capitalism.

5. j Oct 30
How about curbing pollitical polution, There is a lot of garbage, and filth as well as junk, in this junkyard. This Junkyard is worse than all the sewerage pits put together.

Therefore before doing anything, something must be done about the crap in the administration and political realm.

4. Rukshan Oct 30
Moving out the Transport Hub is a better idea.

Come on! quite a good stretch of land is used to just keep the buses parked till the next turn! Funny.

Why cant we have them parked some where like Dematagoda and drive through Fort when needed!!

Hence moving off the Hub is a better idea!

3. Hiran Jayasundara Oct 29
Cars or Buses or (I'm adding)Railways.
Improving the railways might also help this problem.

But the Railway employees are also just as bad as CTB ones who doesn't care about the vehicles at all.

2. lucky Oct 29
Stop-start driving is the biggest cause of high petrol consumption and air pollution in Sri Lanka . Lack of high speed expressways is a major factor forcing people to drive around in the second or third gear.

Very few, if any are able to drive in the fourth or the overdrive and vehicles owners with four speed auto-boxes almost never get a chance to drive in the fourth gear without breaking the speed limit.

Other factors contributing to the slow movement of traffic include - selfish driving habits, poorly trained drivers, bad pedestrian behaviour, improperly maintained old vehicles, elderly drivers( poor eye sight and poor driving), bad road design, animal incursions and unrealistic speed limits.

Traffic authorities here use municipal and urban council limits as city limits for traffic purposes and as a result speed limits extend well beyond the built up city areas.

For example, if British traffic police used the same criteria as Sri Lankan authorities, the 50kmph speed limit would have to extend well beyond the built up areas in and around London City for at least 70 Kms( London Municipal Limits).This would almost certainly bring the whole of UK to a standstill.

In most developed countries, city speed restrictions apply only to built -up areas. A more recent development is to change the speed limit depending on the time of the day, weather and traffic flow. So a road with a speed limit of 50kmph during the day will change to 60 or 70 kmph in the night when there is very little traffic.

One Sunday morning I was stopped for exceeding the city speed limit( 50kmph) on a deserted stretch of road -now wait - in Thanamalwila of all the places.

It was a lonely, straight stretch of road without any buildings or any sign of human habitation for least a kilometer on either side. It cam as a shock to me- I was not aware that Thanamalwila was a city- always thought it was a village.

Nor did I see any sign board indicating that I was entering city( Village?) limits. The policeman was at least honest and admitted that the city limit sign was overgrown with plants and probably was the best place to put a sign. When I explained to the OIC that there should not be any speed restrictions( city limits) on a lonely stretch of road like that - he agreed and let me off!

1. Oct 29
How about concessions for Alternate fuel vehicles. Right now Electric Cars fall under the same Tarriffs as the fuel burners.

I think Sri Lanka should follow Delhi's suit. All public transport in the city runs on CNG.