Business Times

Installing an efficient Bus Rapid Transport system

Study on tram car-like system in Colombo
By M. Prasad Sachintha

As the number of vehicles increases day by day and the space available of the road reduces for this number, congestion increases. This happens at specific locations and during specific times. The commuter has to spend more time and more fuel.

Demand for the road space increases because of the population, higher economic activity, increased GDP and increased mobility. This may lead to higher demand for road space if passengers transfer from space efficient vehicles such as trains and buses to space inefficient vehicles such as cars and, motor cycles and three wheelers.

This calls for quick and urgent solutions to ease the country’s transportation problems given the rapid increase in the import of vehicles.

The Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) became a popular term in public transportation in the world. The main objective of this is to experience the advantages of rail transit while ensuring the cost reduction and flexibility of bus transport. BRT systems provide faster, more efficient service than an ordinary bus line. In many cities this is done by improving the available roads, vehicles, vehicles and by proper scheduling.
Even though there are extreme successes in BRT systems like Curitiba, Trans-Milenio, and Trans-Jakarta, there are failures such as Detroit, Pittsburg, Los Angeles, and Ottawa.

This is a study on how far it is feasible to implement a BRT on the Galle Road from Pettah to Moratuwa. We selected this route because of the high congestion taking place there where simple changes can save lot of time and money for commuters.

Elements in the BRT system Guided way

There is no need for a guided way due to the following reasons but it will be median-separated.
Private vehicles will not be allowed to enter the road stretch from Pettah and Moratuwa where the BRT operates at full swing. The exclusive road lane will be used by the BRT system hence there is no need to have a guided way to eliminate the horizontal movement of the bus and thereby to reduce the road space it requires to operate. So this will help to reduce the cost by a greater amount.


Stations will be located in the middle of the BRT lane, one station giving its services to both directions of BRT traffic. (Refer appendix for graphical illustration) This would be economically advantageous. Depending on the cost we could make it simple or complex. To reduce cost we could have zebra crossing and signal light crossing for accessibility. Depending on the demand and financial situation the station in the middle could be connected to either side’s pavement via an underground tunnel. All the stations must have a uniform floor level that will make it compatible with the floor level of the buses operating.


It is recommended that we use an articulated bus that can carry at least 75-100 people at once. The doors should be at one side of the bus and should be around 40 % of the total length of the bus. The floor level should be equal to the nearest 1cm to the floor levels of the stations. The buses should be air-conditioned. Seating may not be the priority since it is short distances that the BRT is operating, but comfortable spacious conditions must prevail. The existing buses could be articulated for this purpose, as new imports are extremely costly.

Services and Operations

The service should be concentrated at peak times. It is recommended that the government regulates the operations. The time table, fares charged, the maximum and minimum speed requirements should be done in a systematic manner with the intervention of the government, hence a separate authority coming under the purview of the NTC (National Transport Commission). The service will have a 10-minute headway. A feeder service will be implemented from the core of Pettah to the origin of the BRT.

Fare collection

An on-board fare collection system is preferred, until such time an electronic card swap system is in place which will be off-board. It’s also recommended to offer reduced charges for regular users of the system such as the “season pass” system operating currently. Use of season passes will be promoted since it will be convenient to commuters and these will be issued from various convenient points.

Intelligent Transport Systems

Buses should be equipped with GPS systems; the real time data accumulated in these devices could be transferred to a control office which feeds the information to the electronic display located in the stations. Information such as time schedule, any delays, time to reach the waiting station, the average speed of the bus, and the existing capacity utilization of the bus (space availability) should be available to a passenger waiting in a station, to get on board the bus.

For users who are willing to pay a little extra for auxiliary services, notifications via a mobile SMS service should be also made available. Also a web site containing all details will be maintained.

Some issues

a) The BRT will operate only up to Pettah. Hence people coming from Moratuwa and other distant places will find it difficult to use this system effectively since there is no feeder service implemented yet.

b) Moratuwa and Pettah area will act as bottlenecks feeding the people from the BRT system and also other bus operators and the private vehicles -- all facing off each other at this junction.

c) Not many free land available in Moratuwa and Pettah to remodel and develop it as a transit terminal.

a) Can put up buildings (vertical space) near BRT access points in Pettah and Moratuwa, to provide vehicle parking enabling private vehicle owners to park their vehicles and access the BRT where they will enjoy a comfortable ride.

b) The existing road linking Maradana and Wellawatta can be developed into a ring road, which will limit people having to pass via Pettah and thus will ease traffic.

Further recommendations for improved efficiency

At Pettah, the nearby rail station should be connected to the BRT station terminal via an underground tunnel for smooth inter-model. It should be connected to long haul bus service stations at Moratuwa and Pettah in a similar manner. This will improve the system integrity by connecting it with other public transport facilities and reduce the need to use private vehicles to access the city of Colombo.

Suitability (on model)

The model will increase the accessibility and reduce travel time. In the economy of rising fuel prices, public transport will experience less congestion, less cost to the consumer and result in reduced environmental pollution. This is an easy method to implement within the existing infrastructure; only minor adjustments are needed (at the basic level as mentioned above).


How well will the public accept the new system? How convenient is the system to fulfill the transport objectives? The new system will considerably reduce transport time from Pettah to Moratuwa. When compared to automobile usage, public transport will be more convenient, and quick and environmental friendly due to reduction of emissions.


Is it feasible that benefits are higher than the cost incurred? Financial feasibility is one aspect of this. This model’s feasibility is proven by the fact that this is implemented and used effectively in many other countries.

(The writer is studying international transportation and logistics management at the CINEC Maritime Campus at Malabe. The study was conducted under the guidance of Dr. Saman Widhanapathirana from the Road Development Authority. The writer could be reached at

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