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SLTB targets Rs. 50m per day - Minister Kumara Welgama

Transport Minister Kumara Welgama
Pix: Thilak Perera.

Transport Minister Kumara Welgama says that transport is a challenging ministry. He has the ability to improve the quality and services rendered by the transport sector as he comes from a family with a background in transport. The minister in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Observer said his main challenge is to increase the revenue of the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) and reduce at least 25 percent of SLTB's expenditure. The CTB's daily income is presently around Rs. 43m. He plans to increase this to Rs. 50m.

Q:You are in charge of a very challenging ministry. How do you view this challenge?

A: I was the deputy transport minister ten years ago. I also come from a family with a background in transport. All my kith and kin have been in the transport field. This is a challenge for me. But I can accept the challenge and I can bring transport to a very good position. Because transport is in my blood. I have the ability to improve the quality and the services in the buses and trains sector.

Q:What are your plans to improve the state bus service?

A: There are about 35,000 people working for the CTB. Only 5000 buses run on the roads. We are over staffed. That is the number one problem we have faced. A sum of Rs.775 million has to be spent per month to pay the salaries to these 35,000 people excluding ETF and EPF. It comes to Rs.900 million with ETF and EPF. My challenge is to pay this and give a better service to the people. I have made arrangements to increase revenue. At present our daily income is about Rs.43 million. I want to increase this to Rs.50 million. I can do that. Nearly 25 percent of CTB's revenue is spent on things such as buying spare parts. Nearly 10 percent is spent to buy spares and salaries of conductors. When we consider both these together, nearly 25 percent of the CTB revenue is lost. I try my level best to get back that revenue and reduce the losses to at least 15 to 20 percent. Then I can reach the target of Rs.50 million income per day.

I have to bring down fuel cost which is nearly 48 percent of our total revenue. That is too much. The fuel cost in the private sector is about 42 percent. I have decided to directly import spare parts and other accessories like tyres and tubes without going through traders who sell spares at Panchikawatta. I am going to place orders through agents to get genuine spare parts at a discounted price. I am getting a nearly 30 percent discount on tyres, tubes and other motor spares. That is how I am going to cut the cost down and improve the state bus service.

Q:How do you plan to give the public a better private bus service?

A: The private bus service is also very important. It has about 18,000 buses. We have to give them preference. I am agreeable to work not only with the CTB but also with the private sector. We have come to an agreement that the private sector bus fleet should be 60 percent and the CTB bus fleet should be 40 percent. I am working on it now. Time tables will also be adjusted according to this methodology. I am going to discuss with provincial council transport ministers and ask them to work according to this methodology that I have proposed. I hope private bus company owners will also accept this methodology. I am going to implement this now and will give a fresh time table based on this 60-40 methodology. I am going to give a good service to the people. In night running also, I want to make it compulsory to the private sector buses as well. By doing so my intention is to bring buses to the bus shelter at the correct time. Only then will the people say the transport minister is good.

Q:What are the shortcomings you have identified in the train service and how do you plan to modernise it and make it profitable?

A: When I assumed office, the train service was very bad. People complained to me that trains were not running properly and did not come on time. So I thought that I should be a practical regarding this. That is why I decided to travel by train. I started from Galle, Aluthgama, Puttalam, Rambukkana and Gampaha. Because I wanted to ask the masses first what were the difficulties faced by them? When I travelled by train, I went and inquired of this from each and every passenger. By doing that, I have lost my weight as well. I start early in the morning to travel by train and go from seat to seat to meet passengers to get first hand information on the difficulties they face, and act on it. As a result passengers tell me that trains run on time now. I am very happy about on this development.

I have received complaints that passenger carriages are not tidy. I have inspected them and showed how they should be cleaned. All these carriages should be properly cleaned while the floor of the carriages should be mopped, especially on the Chinese power sets. I think we can improve our train service. But it can't be profitable as it is a service. The state is loosing Rs.2.50 per passenger per Kilometre. The passenger is paying only one rupee per Kilometre. In excess to this, the State is pumping nearly Rs.4 billion to conduct the railway service. We have to do something to cut this cost and bring it down. I appreciate the assistance given by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to develop the transport sector. When I informed the President about spares, tyres, tubes and other requirements, he provided all the necessary assistance. Because the President wants the transport sector to be further improved.

Q:Transport is closely linked with highways, the Ministry under the President. How do you plan to work with that ministry to improve transport facilities in the country?

A: The Ministry of Highways is in charge of roads. The CTB buses run on their roads. We have a very good rapport with the Highways Ministry. Every time we want to have a new route, we discuss with them prior to implementation. The Highways Ministry always helps us.

Q:There are a large number of fatal accidents everyday. What are your plans to minimise these accidents? Will you work closely with the Police in this regard?

A: Definitely. We have appointed a committee headed by former minister Mano Wijeratne. We are also responsible for this. The Department of Motor Traffic also comes under my purview. We have formed a committee and appointed former minister Wijeratne to the committee as he had headed the Parliamentary Committee on Fatal Accidents. At present we are taking steps with the police to minimise fatal accidents. We have conducted three rounds of discussions. We are going to implement methods to prevent fatal accidents. We have decided to register motorcycles which are even under 50 CC capacity and make the helmet compulsory for those who ride such motorcycles.

In order to prevent accidents that take place on railway crossings, we are going install warning bells and lights. Though it comes under the highways ministry, we are also responsible as railway tracks belong to us. When an accident happens on a railway track, we are also partly responsible. Under my supervision, we are going to minimise these accidents.

Q:Thousands of vehicles enter Colombo and major cities such as Kandy and Galle everyday. Sometimes these vehicles have only one person. But this leads to massive traffic congestion. What are the steps that can be taken to reduce private car usage and direct those persons to use public transport? Do you have any plans to reduce traffic congestion?

A: First we must have a good train system. People like to travel by train. It is cheaper and fast as well. That is why the President has allocated lot of money to upgrade railway tracks, signal systems and purchase new railway engines. We are also getting two air conditioned power sets (DMUs). In addition, we are getting 7 power sets for upcountry running while another 20 power sets will be used to do the normal run. By using all that in a proper manner, we would be able to use railway tracks to run trains at least to 100 Kms per hour on short distance. The Mahinda Chinthana has also mentioned the use of electric trains. First, we want to start this from Kalutara to Veyangoda. This would also help to give a good service to the people and ease the traffic congestion. We are also going to start a long distance luxury bus service.

Q:Do you have any plans to streamline the three wheeler industry? Perhaps, in collaboration with provincial councils?

A: Yes. I have to speak to provincial council transport ministers to streamline the three wheeler industry. The three wheeler industry should also exist. We should guide it in a proper manner. We should have private buses, three wheelers, CTB buses and trains. All these are in the transport trade where they carry passengers. There has to be a better way of doing this.

Q:What are your plans to improve road and rail links with the North and the East?

A: We are going to start work from Medawachchiya, Madhu and Thalaimannar. We are going to start this within another two or three weeks time. We are also doing from Pallali to Kankesanthurai. We are doing these road and rail links at Matara, Beliatta, Hambantota and Kataragama. We have already signed agreements with China on Matara and Beliatta rail links and they are going to start work from next month.

A lot of new projects on the pipeline. I have also decided to improve the Kelanivalley railway line going up to Avissawella. At present trains on the Kelanivalley line is very slow owing to the houses which have been built close to the railway line. We want to improve this track and have more trains run on this track.

Q:Will the Government unveil the long awaited National Transport Policy?

A: Yes. At present my secretary and other senior ministry officials are working on this. It is under discussion at present.

Q:Is there a plan to build a monorail for Colombo and suburbs?

A: We are exploring possibilities. I also went to Korea to get an understanding on this system. However, this is quite expensive and its returns are very slow.

A lot of money has to be spent to start the monorail system. A lot of countries who are interested have pledged their assistance to start a monorail system in Sri Lanka. Initially, we are going to start this from Ratmalana to Battaramulla. At present we are studying on the possibilities of implementing this system in Sri Lanka.

Q:What are the other plans for transport under Mahinda Chinthana Idiri Dekma that will be implemented during the President's second term?

A: Our plans under Mahinda Chinthana Idiri Dekma will include upgrading railway lines, bringing power sets (DMUs), electric trains and monorails and introducing comfortable buses to give a comfortable ride to passengers.

Courtesy: SundayObserver

Posted on Sunday, October 17, 2010 @ 05:58:09 LKT by

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