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Mobility Policy for Sri Lanka

Transport Policy – A National Need

The need for National policies is mandatory for each development goal. Mobility/Transportation is a key development facilitator and indicator too, hence the need for the policy has been recognized globally.

Unfortunately in Sri Lanka, there is no Transport (recognized as Mobility policy in wider terms) policy present. In fact, a Transport policy can be an integral component of a Mobility Policy, which defines how will the nation move in the future.

Not only in present, we couldn’t find any instance where a policy was present in Sri Lanka, but the ad-hoc action. There were a couple of drafts and studies present which include the Draft National Policy on Transport In Sri Lanka by the Ministry of Transport. This  April 2009 dated draft by Prof Amal Kumarage seems comprehensive for the time but lacks the inclusivity of major areas like Energy shift, Micromobility, and the ICT in transportation.

The Comtrans study too is a wide study done by JICA, although cannot be considered as a policy for the future with due updates. The National Physical Plan identifies some critical sectors valid for National Mobility management but not a plan for action, especially on transportation.

It has been said a draft policy has been submitted to the cabinet in late 2019. However, the document with NTC in this regard doesn’t include the needy components of a policy, you may find the link at the end of this document.

The Need

The following identifies the needs of the principal areas of consideration in developing a national policy for transport, but not limited to.

Here we suggest the components of a framework to optimize the transportation needs of the country, to form a National Policy for Transport (Mobility).

Each of the components (subsection) needs to be detailed in its need analysis, costs, priorities, timelines, advantages, and benefits to the country and society. All these components shall be developed as separate strategic moves upon due consideration under the subject matter, National Policy of Transport. 

Sri Lanka – Status quo

Transport is a major barrier to development in the country and here are some of the key figures, available publicly.

Colombo gets over half a million vehicles a day bringing two million people to the city. (Car & Jeep 200,000, Vans 60,00, Motorcycles 120,000, Tuk-tuk 120,000, public transport 30,000, and goods transport trucks 40,000).  The minimal contribution of public transportation modes creates a huge negative imbalance in urban mobility.

It has been estimated the cost of congestion exceeds a billion rupees a day. Furthermore, the cost of the congestion now exceeds the cost of the 30-year war it has been said.

Over 60% of the Colombo air pollution (GHG and PM2.5) has been contributed by the road transportation sector. Unfortunately, emission standards are way outdated and unreliable. Sad to note public transport has not shown any improvement over the decades.

Guiding Principles

  • Public Transport to cater to a minimum of 50% of the total transit needs by 2025 and 70% by 2030.
  • Prioritizing the use of existing assets, in its best efficiency and productivity.
  • Extensive use of ICT, to be an integral part of the National Policy across all modes.
  • Electrification is to be applied in all motorized modes of transit, from private to public.
  • Comfort and convenience of public transport, enabling mode shift.
  • Prioritizing public buses, as their flexibility, suitability, and cost-effectivity where there’s no need or room for mass transit systems.
  • Prioritizing Micromobility, covering a quarter of overall mobility needs.
  • Facilitate and use renewable energy in transport, in line with the 80% target by 2030.

Focus on promoting and facilitating mode shift, especially the process of changing attitudes.

Considerations of a Mobility Policy

Following are the key components/action areas to be included/elaborated in a National Transport Policy, but not limited to. The components are not in the order of priority as well, numbers are for reference only.

1. Expressways

These are getting developed at a massive cost, to be considered with the future development goals and the mode shift as well. The need analysis is to be based on the usage and the fulfillment of the revenue and economic objectives of the country.

2. Revamp of Public and Private Bus system

Route permits shall only be issued for the companies who operate 100 or more busses, and routes allocated to such companies with the timetable. SLTB depots too can be such companies.

A particular road can be reserved for one private operator and/or SLTB. These are to be run on a permanent timetable, ensuring the arrival time is posted on each bus halt. This will eliminate the costly competition, waiting, speeding, and not adhering to timing, and even increase owner profitability. This is the tested and proven method all over the world.

No route permits shall be issued to individuals under this scheme in operation. 

3. Emission Standards / Energy Shift

It is noted the country is not aligning with global or even regional standards. It is a must to review the current system and establish measures to curb climate change. Having a National Energy policy with the mandated target of 80% renewable share is a critical component in meeting this. 

Precise evaluation and planning are required to facilitate the electrification of mobility, replacing fossil fuels. 

4. Bus Priority Lanes towards BRT

BPL has been tested for years on Galle Road and Parliament Road, but not with any success. However, this is successful in most cities and can be deployed within the existing framework, except for a couple of bottlenecks in three-lane roads. 

No wonder local efforts failed which were implemented in the absence of a National Transport Plan. The infrastructure shall facilitate the system which includes lane discipline and bus halting spaces.

4A. Low Floor, Articulated Buses

An extension of the above. The major barrier is the cost of new buses vs the existing ticket prices.  Global climate change grants are available to facilitate capital costs. Articulated models will be addressing the driver shortage as well.

4B. Shift to Electric Buses & Trains

More buses shall be deployed on the routes but the time factor, energy conservation, faster dispatch, etc will be barriers to sustainability.

Electric Buses in operation – India

5. Connected Mobility

It is a must to have all moods of transport get connected (GPS enabled) and monitored. Furthermore, this will enable driver and fleet monitoring with other utilization, efficiency, and productivity measures in managing via a centralized dashboard.

This will pave the way for cost reduction and optimized utilization for better revenue as well. There are enough modeling at the global level and the architecture can be developed locally.

6. Automated fleet management (FMS)

This is a key fleet management requirement with a view of reducing the maintenance and operational costs with better data from CPK (Cost per Kilometer), TCO (Total cost of operations per KM), etc in reducing costs yet improving utilization and productivity.

Prevention is the key, and always better than the cure. An FMS will be a great tool to ensure prevention measures in minimizing the OPEX. These systems shall be in place, especially with all government fleets, primarily on SLTB.

7. Restructuring Railway

The system has not seen any modernization except for minor track extensions and changes in the fleet. The global systems operate differently, private or in partnership with the Governments. We need not reinvent the wheel, just follow what others do to apply as apt in our context.

Some proposals and projects are underway on Kelani Valley and Southern lines. However, no firm action plan is in place although there are several agencies working on it. What we need is not ad-hoc changes, but a complete restructuring with electrification and privatization.


This has been a controversy during the previous term. Our opinion has been mentioned here. 

8. Seamless Interchange 

A must-need in moving towards a sustainable mobility infrastructure. This is all about connecting the Railways, Bus terminals, ferry stations, Car/Cycle parks, etc.

8A. Multimodal hubs

A primary component of a national policy, which will be responsible for the overall success. No helicopter view of the overall transportation needs and projects be seen, in the eyes of the public.

8B. Common ticketing for all modes

The proposed/tendered railway ticketing system is not in line with the President’s policy framework “Sawbhagyaye Dakma” which specifies a “paperless” “one for all” ticket system.

9. Micromobiliy

This is a major requirement in reducing congestion, fuel import bills, environmental pollution, and even the country’s health bill. The enactment needs to be in connecting a few government institutions including the Ministry Of Transport, Ministry of Highways, and UDA as well.

Micro-mobility is a critical component in redefining new-age mobility. We have developed a comprehensive plan which needs to be incorporated into the national transport plan.

9A. Bicycle Highways

This is a global phenomenon, especially in the post-pandemic mode shift. This will make a major shift to curb congestion, reduce fuel import bills, cleaner air, and reduce health bills as well. Here is a detailed study of the phenomenon and the action proposed.

10. Water transport

This shall be under the Ministry of Transport.  This will be greatly successful with proper interconnections with other modes of transport, in easing up the congestion.

11. Motor Traffic Act

It is needed to incorporate traffic regulations to facilitate the transport policy. The key changes include lane discipline, curb parking, etc. We have spoken of this need in several other posts.

It is highly advisable to make it mandatory for all commercial vehicle drivers including Three wheelers and small trucks to have a heavy vehicle driving license.

Also to limit the age limit of three-wheeler drivers to a minimum of 40 to ensure the county’s youth to be occupied and productive towards the development of the country.

12. Driver Skills development

No information on CPD (Continuous Professional Development) routine training and monitoring measures on commercial vehicle drivers, including SLTB.

12A. Defensive Driving

Transport and Fleet maintenance costs are rising. The rate of accidents is rising.  Driver error has been identified as the root cause of almost all collisions. Furthermore, poor attention on defensive driving is causing many other issues in the public transportation sector as well as in the private sector.

  • Reduced fuel bill
  • Reduced fleet maintenance, tire, and battery costs
  • Reduced incidents and accidents
  • Reduced downtime
  • Reduced congestion

The strategy can be enforced on private operations as well. A pilot project shall be deployed over one or a few corporates/fleets/companies with control, monitoring, and evaluation measures.

13. Environment | Renewables

It is a must for the policy to have a Transport Environmental Section included aligning with the global measures and regulations (i.e. European Green Deal) on the reduction of carbon footprint and global warming in Transportation/Mobility.

About us

Mobility Alliance provides mobility solutions and process re-engineering on transportation for organizations applying cutting-edge technology and systems. 

We strive to Minimize the total cost of ownership (TCO) and maximize operational excellence delivering improved bottom lines and social values to our patrons and society.

The link to the document we found to be the latest transport policy.

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