Tuesday 26 July 2011

Sri Lanka's first toll road about to open, but already criticised

The first stage of Sri Lanka's Southern Expressway is due to open in the next week and will be the country's first toll road.

It runs from Pinnaduwa in Galle to Kottawa in Colombo district, with details on the Sri Lanka Road Development Authority (RDA) website here.  It is essentially the main highway south from outer Colombo to the southern tip of the country.  

Slow vehicles (tractor and rickshaws) will be banned on the 126 km expressway, which will include strict enforcement of speeds (100km/h) and overloading to ensure it is a safe route. 

The latest report (from Lanka Business Online) is that the tolls are to be collected manually, using tickets so that there is a ticket given at the start of the trip and used at the end to pay the toll.  It is noted that electronic tolling will be introduced later, which may reflect the low cost of manual tolls in the country, although the other point made by the article is that in India up to 20% of revenue is reportedly lost due to "leakage" (people not paying) with manual tolls.

Lanka Business Online suggests that the decision to introduce manual tolls was foolish, because it feeds the black economy.  It also notes the inevitable congestion with manual tolls saying:

A traditional staffed toll lane typically processes 300- 350 vehicles per hour whereas an electronic toll lane can handle from 1,000 vehicles per hour in a dedicated toll lane within a conventional toll plaza and even as high as 1,800 vehicles per hour in an open highway configuration.

The ticket system is damned as being slow and inefficient, when it would be preferable to have electronic tolls, or at least a flat rate charge to pay to speed up throughput.  

I wouldn't be surprised if the thought of electronic tolls, and the cost of equipment, and systems to detect offenders caused fear at the RDA.  However, there is little reason to not introduce barrier based electronic tolls as a starter, to accelerate throughput and provide a mechanism to detect and count throughput efficiently (to reduce leakage).   There are plenty of international experts who could have helped with this, and saved much money in the longer term.

Electronic free flow would require the number plate and vehicle databases to be fit for purpose, and I have no idea if they are or not.   However, that would be a future step.  For now, it would be nice if Sri Lanka did the basics right.  Maybe an audit of the manual toll system and business rules would be a start?

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