Sri Lanka private electric bus company mooted as commuters drop

Sri Lanka’s private bus operator group is proposing to set up an electric city bus company on a key route in the capital Colombo, as passengers shift from the regulated bus service to private transport and office vans.

“We want to import 1,000 electric low floor buses and run operate them on key routes but we cannot do it without the co-operation of the authorities,” Gemunu Wijeratne, head of Lanka Private Bus Owners Association, an operators’ union.

Wijeratne said existing route license holders will be shareholders of the electric bus company.

He said Chinese electric buses from manufacturers such as Ankai, can be imported for about 15 million rupees.

“We can invest money but the authorities support is needed to get it into operation,” Wijeratne said. “We can run these on the bus lanes. Priority bus lanes are also something we have asked for a long time.”

Wijeratne says private bus owners are proposing the use of a smart card, where revenues will go to a central kitty and money will be distributed to individual buses based on operated kilometres, not passenger kilometres.

In this way money from peak hours can be used to operate buses off peak. It will eliminate the current competition for passengers by two buses which can lead to dangerous driving or going off time tables.

Before the state expropriated private bus companies, buses operated on a single route. Revenues from the first and second bus both went to the same company.

After individual buses were licensed from 1978 allowing the community to solve their own public transport needs new investments came but compared to the bus companies, some drawbacks were seen.

Under Sri Lanka’s regulated bus system, and price control, there are no peak or off peak prices. Operators are not allowed to charge higher prices in the night, preventing the existence and growth of night buses.

Wijeratne says the smart card based system will allow them to resume night services. They are not asking for higher tariffs in the night but uniform tariffs which will be higher than the current ones, because the air conditioned buses will be more comfortable.

“We may make losses on night buses initially, but we think it will pick up with more night activities starting up,” Wijeratne says.

Charging peak and off peak prices help drive non-commuter passengers to daytime off peak.

Private bus operators are trying to come up with ways to get more passengers as existing regulations have prevented innovation and is driving people out of the sector. A bus strike last year hardly affected the community unlike in earlier years as with people using three wheelers and their own vehicles to move about.

Both the state bus unions and private buses can no longer keep the citizenry hostage with the threat of strikes.

On many routes, particularly in Colombo, former bus passengers are moving to cars and motor cycles.

Wijeratne says buses are losing 1,500 passengers a day around Sri Lanka.

According to industry sources unofficial secondary market prices of route license have fallen on many routes. On key routes such as Galle Road, prices have halved over the past 3 – 4 years as passenger numbers continue to decline. (Colombo/Aug26/2017)

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