Data via the Central Bank
Sri Lanka’s public transit is neglected and mad messed. Generations ago they tried to fix this by privatizing buses, but there was so much rent-seeking and regulation that this also didn’t work out well. The buses are ancient, race around, and don’t serve the need.
Me, personally, I was happy to see the government import actual city buses but I have never caught one in the course of a normal day. Hence I was more happy to hear that they’re going to import 3,000 more.
However, this hasn’t made the private bus operators happy and they’re threatening a strike. I understand their sentiments here, but they shouldn’t be protesting to keep better buses out, they should be protesting to drop the regulations and price fixing that makes it impossible for them to bring the advantages of the private sector to bear – AKA, variable pricing, innovation, etc.
What’s happened is that the private bus operators have become a sort of entrenched special interest that just wants their pittance preserved. However, I do think public transit has to be led by the public sector. I mean, just import the buses and run them. Over 50% of Colombo commuters come by bus and it sucks. Please please modernize this sector.
Open up opportunities for private bus operators, heck, I’d like to run an airport bus, but don’t hold the public sector back. If you look at the graph above, public bus capacity hasn’t increased at all, it’s actually gone down. The SLTB runs an average of 4,365 buses per day, down from 4,599 in 2003. But it’s not like need has gone down. Indeed, we need buses for everyone, not just the people who can’t afford cars. Thankfully the government has imported a few, but I only see them passing by. I sincerely hope they’ll import more such that I can actually take one.
For a video of how I think the bus service should be, check this out.