With the increasing influx of vehicles into the Western Province, especially to Colombo, the government has planned to utilise lands belonging to the Urban Development Authority (UDA) in Colombo and Horana to be used as vehicle parking locations in order to address the acute shortage of space in Colombo and the suburbs.

The influx of vehicles is expected to increase dramatically during the festive season. However, authorities pointed out that the shortage of parking spaces had resulted in increase in traffic congestion and inconvenience to the public.

The Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development has taken steps to address this issue through temporary parking spaces in and around Colombo.

Speaking to Weekend Nation, Secretary to the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, Nihal Rupasinghe said that they had identified eight plots of land at several areas around Colombo and Horana to be temporarily used for parking.

Accordingly, these spaces will be used as parking slots by the public temporarily.
“We will start converting them into parking lots during the next two months. However, this is just a temporary arrangement. We are currently studying various modalities through which the parking problems in Colombo could be addressed,” he said.

Accordingly, the discussions pertaining to converting these lands as parking spaces are at the initial stages and the plan would be implemented gradually over the coming weeks.
The Secretary to the Ministry also pointed out that the government was working on a long-term solution for the problem which would be worked on while the temporary arrangement was in place.

“The temporary arrangement will be in place until we come up with a permanent solution,” Rupasinghe added.

Accordingly, the government is studying various models of parking including the vertical parking structures that have become popular in several countries around the world.
Rupasinghe pointed out that the process would take quite a bit of time in order to finalise on a plan and then scout for locations to establish these parking spots.

Meanwhile, Colombo Municipal Commissioner VKA Anura said that parking in Colombo had reached its maximum and there was no way it could be increased despite the increasing traffic influx into Colombo.

He said the daily city traffic influx was between 255,000 to 300,000 vehicles.
CMC Director of Engineering Traffic Design and Road Safety, Nihal Wickramaratne said that there are 4,000 on-street parking slots in the city of Colombo.

When asked if the CMC has any plans to restrict the number of vehicles entering the Colombo city limits in the near future, Wickramaratne admitted that traffic could not be curtailed without improving public transport sector standards.

“We are currently working on improving parking management in order to facilitate on street parking with enough space for the public to walk,” said Wickramaratne.

The government also announced that it would revamp the public transport system by bringing in new buses to replace old ones.

The move comes as part of a long-term strategy to improve the State’s public transportation system, especially after the islandwide strike which was launched by private bus operators on December 2.

Meanwhile, experts too called upon for an overhaul in the transportation system in the country.

Moratuwa University, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Transport and Logistics Management, Senior lecturer, Dr. Yapa Mahinda Bandara pointed out that the reason behind the congestion is the lack of organization in transport infrastructure. Referring to SLTB’s intentions to increase SLTB bus fleet from 20 to 40 per cent reported in last week’s issue of Nation, Bandara pointed out that even a 20 per cent increase will only add to this congestion.

“The current private to SLTB bus ratio is 80 to 20 per cent,” informed Bandara. “But, most of the routes are already overcrowded.” He explained that the number of commuters is very high but a large number of them use vehicles such as three-wheelers and bikes. “This is because these methods afford them privacy, comfort and safety, things that public transport has failed to provide.”

He pointed out that the general cost of public transport is high, not so much in monetary terms, but due to factors such as lack of privacy, safety and comfort. “This is why, although bus fares are low, Sri Lankan public is discouraged from making full use of public transport.”

Bandara pointed out that most bus routes incur huge losses during off peak hours. “For example there are over 350 buses plying the Kandy-Digana, Kandy-Kadugannawa routes. There are too many buses in the Kadugannawa-Pilimathalawa route and too few passengers. As a result, bus owners barely earn enough money to cover their daily expenses. The same can be observed in the Moratuwa 100 route.”

He observed a general mismatch in demand and supply in most bus routes. He opined that with more people opting for private transport methods passenger numbers will decline. “Add to this the substandard quality of the service and the whole sector will be in trouble. Increasing capacity won’t help,” reiterated Bandara.

He pointed out that there is no pattern to the transport system in Sri Lanka. He explained that settlements have expanded along the transport corridors with a mix of small and large scale industries. “Industry and residential areas are not clearly demarcated resulting in a haphazard commuting system.”

A clear mobility pattern is observed only in a few main corridors such as Colombo-Ratnapura (A4), Colombo-Galle (A2), Colombo-Kandy (A1) and Peliyagoda-Puttalam (Airport route) (A3). “But the traffic is generated by the by-roads, for example by-roads of Highlevel road and Galle road,” explained Bandara. This is shared by a mix of vehicular traffic, such as buses, bikes, three-wheelers, cars and even freight vehicles. “There is no dedicated infrastructure for public transport, therefore it is less efficient and time consuming,” said Bandara.

Systems such as the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), proposed for Galle Road, with dedicated lane for buses have their pros and cons, said Bandara. Through systems such as BRT point to point travel is made easy and less time consuming. But the problem of land use pattern again affects the systems feasibility. Bandara pointed out that people find it difficult to access main corridors such as Galle Road or Highlevel Road without another private mode of transport. “Take for example the two points Moratuwa and Pettah. Travel between these two points can be made easy through a system like BRT. But people often have to travel from interior towns to reach Moratuwa.”

These are accessibility issues due to unplanned residential distribution referred to as the ‘first mile problem’, said Bandara. “First mile and last mile problems, last mile being the last mile leading to one’s destination discourage public from opting for public transport,” explained Bandara. Systems such as the BRT have to evolve as a network.