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Sri Lanka’s public transportation is entirely outdated and needs to undergo genuine modernization as soon as possible, Deputy Minister of State Enterprise Development Eran Wickremaratne said yesterday. Speaking at the Colombo Mayor’s Conference, the Deputy Minister hailed the public transport system envisaged for the country by the former government but said it required investments to the tune of US$ 300million a year, over a 10 year period.

“A seemingly simple improvement could be the introduction of a timetable according to which public transport runs. By installing GPS systems on buses, the public could keep track of their routes, arrival times and estimated time to destination. This would save people anxiety over bus delays. Considerable amounts of time are wasted.People should no longer have to stand waiting, often in monsoonal times such as what we are experiencing now, for buses to come at times that they can only just guess,” Wickremaratne said.

Eran WickramaratnePointing out that according to the Global Innovation Index 2015, Sri Lanka was ranked poorly at 85 out of 141 countries in contrast with its regional neighbours, he said the divergence in ranking highlights the lack of an environment conducive to entrepreneurship and innovation in Sri Lanka, and an under-investment in human capital.

“Rather than trying to run before we can walk, we must use the tools we have at our disposal to make Sri Lankan cities both smart and futuristic. For example, almost every Sri Lankan owns a mobile phone. We have a population of 21 million and we have as much or more mobile phones. We could use mobiles to protect the vulnerable, improve security and promote interactive politics. To build on this vision, we can borrow from the proposed Smart Seoul 2015 model, South Korea’s strategic plan for the informatization of the city. For example, similar to developments in Seoul, Colombo and indeed the whole island are working towards establishing freely available WiFi and hotspots throughout the city,” the Deputy Minister suggested.

He further said that in order to ‘bridge the digital divide’ Colombo should pursue educating the elderly as Sri Lanka has a fast ageing population.

“We have the income of a lower middle-income country, and the social indicators of a highly developed country. Therefore we have to bridge the digital divide among the elderly, the low-income families; and the disabled, on technology and smart devices. This is important for inclusive development, to ensure that these segments of society are not left behind as the rest of the population progresses with new and smart infrastructure. Technology can be used to protect the disadvantaged too. Healthcare can benefit from motion detectors, which provide monitoring services for senior citizens or those with disabilities,” Wickremaratne said.

He added that when it comes to developing smart cities many think of confining it to the capital city alone. However, the time has come for one to look beyond that concept.

“I have a blueprint to develop the suburban city of Moratuwa as an industrial park, a knowledge centre, and to set up a world class Carpentry School, as there are many talented carpenters in Moratuwa. The hospital will be linked up digitally with other hospitals in the country. A public safety network will be set up in this city. There is much to be done,” the Deputy Minister asserted.