Following on from a similar reference in Bangladesh, the Daily News of Sri Lanka reports that Private Transport Services Minister C B Ratnayake advocates congestion charging as part of an overall integrated transport strategy.
He said: "In general, Sri Lankan cities have not made much progress in implementing the demand side transport management measures, such as congestion pricing, restraints on parking etc. Although policy measures that involve restraining the use of private cars and two-wheelers are likely to be unpopular, a gradualist approach of progressively introducing restraints on road use, while at the same time improving public transport, is more likely to lead to greater acceptance. It is believed that improved public transport and more efficient management of demand would help to combat the trend away from public transport vehicles towards greater use of personalized modes.”
In other words, congestion pricing can be part of the toolbox of a developing country as car ownership increases, to ensure the inevitable drift from public to private transport is constrained efficiently in ways that manage congestion and help maintain the relative competitiveness of public transport, particularly where road space is scarce.
Of course, the challenges to introduce this in Sri Lanka are enormous. Some basic infrastructure to identify vehicles reliably, and pursue and penalise non-payment is the biggest issue. However, it is heartening to see such a positive view being taken in Sri Lanka on this. Mr Ratnayake appears to have fairly sound economics behind many of his views, including the need to have strict appraisal procedures for large capital projects, so that scarce resources are spent on the highest value projects first (avoiding politically driven projects with poor returns). If he can institute reforms that can lead to more tolls and eventually congestion charging in Sri Lanka, then he will be a leader in development of such systems in South Asia.