Holy Mess of Sri Lankan Transportation sector by Dhanuka Dickwella

A developed , sustainable , safe & efficient transport system is of paramount importance to any country’s development. That has been proven for millenniums. From ancient Rome to historical Anuradhapura to modern day Japan, planned cities were supplemented by the developed transportation options.

Sri Lanka’s transportation system is nothing but a big mess. From overcrowded , filthy & notorious private buses to the centuries old trains to the totally unsafe Three Wheelers the citizens are presented with the riskiest , inefficient , unsustainable options. The roads are full of vehicles polluting the atmosphere. Just to travel a 10Km distance takes a ridiculous amount of time. Everyday billions worth of human labor time is wasted on roads. Every day the enormous fuel consumption adds on to the already burdened economic woes.

Road Safety wise our country is at a terrible level. The vulnerable communities such as pedestrians, cyclists, and school children are forced to survive on the road. Hundreds of innocent children have perished on marked street crossings right in front of their schools. We are slowly but steadily destroying our future generation. I wonder how fellow citizens drive like barbarians without giving any value to the lives of those kids & cyclists while being a parent or a pedestrian at some point simultaneously.

If we leave behind this shameful legacy for the next generations to come , we would end up being the most selfish , self centered hypocrites in the books of our history . First & foremost we need to assume the fact that the current Transportation system has to be completely overhauled & it is of no good use to anyone. It is here and now.

As a citizen that has spent four decades in Sri Lanka & wasted a considerable amount of my valuable time on roads and horrible transport systems , I thought of pinning this down. I hope the general public will be better aware of what has to be done & there will be some kind of social demand for better transportation.

Public Transportation


The first order of the duty would be to say a final adieu to the existing fleet of buses. These are not even good to transport cattle. Both the private sector & the government sector have to introduce fuel efficient , comfortable, safe buses. At the beginning we will have to import the buses & later local assembling & manufacturing could be adopted. The staff should be subjected to rigorous training on customer handling, first aid, and road safety. Buses should be given a strict timetable to follow so that they will not be able to sit on bus stops wasting millions worth of human capital


Our train system is a colonial heritage & the condition is still very colonial. We practice the same old standards that have well been replaced throughout the world. Train network could bring a great solution to the existing transport issues. It would be important to bring the private sector into play. If the government does not have the necessary capital to invest on new & comfortable trains a PPP method could be introduced . I believe that the only people who are benefited by the current railway system are the railway employees themselves. The corrupt practices & total disregard to the country’s needs, are what is blocking the railway from reaching its optimal potential. The management has to be restructured & the railway employees must be made to understand that it is a public system to support the transport needs of the public but not the staff themselves. Train service has to be made punctual. New classes of Trains that are more passenger friendly have to be introduced. The stations will have to be modified to suit the contemporary needs. Frequent and more trains could be added to the system. Wherever there are rail gates blocking the transport artery could be averted by adding overhead bridges. The current colossal losses could be minimized initially and the railway could become a profitable revenue generator for the government. People are ready to pay the right price for greater quality.

Taxis & Tuk Tuks

Uber & other taxi services are essential. But they have to be brought to oversight & accountability. Currently they have free reign behaving like a bull in the China shop. They are ripping people’s free hand. A regulated guideline would be beneficial for the general public. I believe that we need to get rid of the Tuk Tuk totally in time to come. Introducing more eco-friendly common options such as small electric cars instead of unsafe Tuk Tuks would be a game changer.

New methods


Metros should have been traversing across Colombo decades back. Almost every other South Asian nation & even poorer nations in Africa / Latin America have embraced Metros extensively. Unfortunately the Sri Lankan politicians have only been paratoing the importance of Metros & promising a whole lot. The only such system that was almost implemented was shrugged under the carpet for god knows reasons. The proper utilization of a metro system will completely change the current dynamics. People will avoid using private vehicles that contribute to congestion, fuel consumption & many other social issues. The movement will be faster, safer & more economical. The positive contribution of a metro system to the economy would be in millions.


Colombo is blessed with a lot of water bodies that connect almost all the economically important localities & population centers. On & off there have been efforts by consecutive governments to introduce the usage of motor boats as a transport method. Other than the huge media shows & wasting of public money none of these initiatives have worked. Lack of consistency , poor planning to win the public & mismanagement caused all these initiatives to go wasted. A long term masterplan , proper approach , safe & great boat choices , more routes, constant & daily operations, and publicly available ticketing systems could easily lure thousands to this system.

Cycle friendly cities

Undoubtedly the topic of this century is climate change. This would be a matter of the very survival of humanity. While modernizing the transport systems , we need to look for green options. Among the choices we have, cycling would be the easiest & cost effective to adopt. People have been cycling for centuries. So it is in their DNA. What we could do is to create cycle tracks that would cover the crucial economic points & population centers. To make sure that this option would not be limited to youngsters , we need to introduce electric bikes that will help senior citizens immensely. The decision makers should study the cycle friendly cities in Europe, North America & Asia to determine the best model for us. Cycle sharing systems where there won’t be a capital investment for the user would be an encouraging factor.


Digitization is the future of almost all the sectors. Transportation could be totally revolutionized with the help of digitizing. From reserving trains & buses to paying through mobile devices will save millions of money & time for both users & service providers. There will be less crowds for ticket purchases & the authorities will get most current & live updates about the finances. That will in turn help them in budgets & the avoidance of complex accounting processes that are nothing but ideal time wasting methods . Public will be able to make well informed decisions to decide on the best time to leave for their destination thus paving the way for less trafficked systems.

If at all the various governments throughout the time had given the due recognition to the importance of modernizing the Transportation to suit the changing demographics , Sri Lanka would not have been in the current mess we are in now. It is time we act now !!!

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