Public transport in post Covid-19 era | Sunday Observer

Public transport in post Covid-19 era

Prof. Amal Kumarage-Anjana Priyanjith-Dilantha Fernando
Prof. Amal Kumarage-Anjana Priyanjith-Dilantha Fernando

In the wake of resuming a ‘guided’ day-to-day life under a new normal, public transportation was finally given the green light to run since last Monday, after about 78 days of hibernation.

Even though the lockdown was eased several weeks ago and industries resumed their work since May 11, the restart of public transportation was delayed due to practical issues on social distancing, a key necessity in the battle against Covid-19.

However, now public transport is back to life, with certain health statutes, such as limiting passengers to the number of seats, especially in buses.

All Ceylon Private Bus Owners Association General Secretary Anjana Priyanjith told the Sunday Observer that private bus operators are facing hardships as their revenue is down by half after the resumption of transport services.

Bus fare

“We are rigidly following government regulations taking passengers to the number of seats. As a result, our revenue has drained by 50 percent,” he said.

Before Covid-19, the challenge for passengers was to somehow get into an already crowded bus. The pandemic has turned the challenge upside down and now passengers are desperately waiting to see a bus for them, even though they are not crowded at all.

Priyanjith said that a reasonable hike to the bus fare is the only solution to recover losses of the industry.

“We are pleased that the Government has decided to provide a quality service to the public. But we are also in trouble with a revenue loss,” he said.

The bus fare is determined considering the number of seats of a bus and assuming a certain number of passengers travelling without a seat. The semi-luxury bus service is charging 1.5 times the normal rate considering that they are taking passengers only for the number of seats. As the normal bus service currently operates similar to semi luxuries, private bus owners wish to have an increase to the bus fare.


Contrasting to social distancing regulations, the Railway is facing difficulties to maintain social distancing in public transport, Railways General Manager Dilantha Fernando said.

“Social distancing is hard to follow, especially in office trains. The power sets are designed to carry more people on standing,” he said.

The Department has provided facilities to the public to wash their hands, dip their shoes in a chemical tray in addition to measuring the body temperature of every passenger before entering the platform.

“Passengers tend to avoid washing their hands before boarding trains. This behaviour is widely seen among office train passengers. They come late expecting to catch the last train before their office starts. But our early morning trains are less crowded and if passengers come a little early, this congestion would not happen,” the General Manager said.

Challenges and opportunities

Senior Professor at the Department of Transport and Logistics Management at the University of Moratuwa Professor Amal Kumarage told the Sunday Observer that the challenge created by Covid-19 is likely to break the backbone of the Sri Lankan public transport industry.

“Unless we grab the wave of digital transformations and reform public transportation, the repercussions will be far greater than the loss of the industry,” the Professor said.

Kumarage, who has followed the development of public transport over 30 years, said that Sri Lanka should embrace more digitisation in public transportation to adhere to social distancing regulations.

The Professor, who served as the Chairman of the National Transport Commission in three times and as International Vice President of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, has studied how the world has moved with public transportation. He said that bus transportation should not be crowded even without Covid-19.

“It is not that we do not have enough buses. It is because we do not schedule buses according to a proper method,” he said.

The Professor said that this is not only an opportunity, but also a dire need to reform the public transport sector.