After almost five months hiatus since the launch, the Megapolis team this week unveiled its US $ 11.5 billion transport master plan spanning over 20 years, in an attempt to make a model shift from the private to public transport in the Colombo Metropolitan Region (CMR), which currently is in a dismal state. Over the years Sri Lanka’s share of public transportation has come down to 52 percent while the share of private transport has increased to 48 percent and the situation is getting worse by the day, said Professor Saman Bandara, a consultant and a core member of the transport committee in the Western Region Megapolis Planning Project (WRMPP).
The WRMPP will infuse bulk of the moneys—of which 67 percent will go into improving public transport by way of an expensive light rail transit (LRT) system, railway electrification, inland waterways, bus modernization while 29 percent of the money will be invested in road infrastructure development. This will see the public transport share going up to 59 percent and the average travel speed increasing to 27 kilometres per hour by 2035 from the current 17 kilometres per hour.
The project will commence as early as within six months, told Dr. Dimantha De Silva, a consultant and the team leader for the transport committee of the project. Megapolis development is a US $ 40 billion project and is a brainchild of the Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and unveiled this January. The critical element of transportation is 30 percent or US $ 12 billion of the project. The project is to be funded via public-private partnerships (PPPs) but no tangible plan has so far been laid on attracting the top dollars.
The team recently came under severe flack from a section of transport experts for paying scant time and attention to carry out detailed studies to determine the most suitable design, technology, analysis, review and public discussion. Speaking at seminar titled ‘Rethinking Transport in the Megapolis’ organised by Verité Research – a Colombo-based policy think-tank—Dr. De Silva said his team selected the LRT system with an investment of US $ 3.5 billion over the bus rapid transport (BRT) system and monorail due to the sustainability of the former based on capacity handling, time to set up, reduced cost with ground operation and lower operations cost. However, the former Transport Ministry Secretary Dr. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan, a well-known transport economist in the country, challenged the proposal to operate LRT over BRT as the former is 10 times expensive than the latter. “Unless you have 10 times the ridership, it becomes a problem (financially unviable) because we are operating under capital constraints.
We don’t have money to spend lavishly. Without doing that analysis, I don’t know how BRT was rejected,” Dr. Gunaruwan said. It was only a few weeks ago Professor Amal Kumarage, another top logistics expert in the country, charged that despite the government actively seeking a whopping US $ 3.1 billion (Rs.453 billion) for an expensive LRT system from the private sector, no feasibility study had been carried out. “Feasibility (study) has been rejected for a BRT even though it is one of the least expensive ways of providing high-quality mobility, they can be put in very quickly and they can also be taken out without much expense or inconvenience,” Professor Kumarage said. However, the Megapolis team said they were willing to amend their original plan after a detailed feasibility study proved otherwise on their initial judgments on LRT and BRT.
“I think we are never going to have 100 percent solution, 100 percent agreement. So, we will have to try to move forward. But I have to say, we are now open (for discussion),” said Megapolis Project Head of Investments Nayana Mawilmada.