How abandoned buses worth Rs. 1 billion were refurbished for Rs. 10 million
Stellar achievement by SD&CC and SLTB:
Repaired buses back on expressways:
Since the time the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) was bestowed on the public in the 1960s, they had provided no small service – from the first bus in the morning to the last bus at night countrywide.
Many private buses operating in rural areas were used ones auctioned by SLTB. Although the SLTB couldn’t properly maintain and operate its vast fleet, this became a good source of income for the private sector.
It has been difficult to maintain the SLTB with the income of its buses alone, but private bus services are in a position to make a profit.
Even though there have been SLTB-private joint bus services, it was quite difficult for the SLTB to keep up as it could not maintain its bus pools properly.
In the meantime, the SLTB buses that ran on the expressway got a new lease of life because the luxury buses brought for the Commonwealth Heads of States Conference (CHOGM) were used for shuttle services on the expressway through several Government agencies including the SLTB and the Road Development Authority.
These buses manufactured by China’s Yutong Company were gradually taken off the road. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that the buses could not be properly maintained and the spare parts were hard to come by.
Although these buses did not fall into the “super luxury” category, they were as good as the super luxury buses. Passengers were able to travel in comfort without being jostled thanks to better suspension systems and adjustable seats. Most of these buses were at the Katubedda SLTB depot and they were pulled out of service one by one because of the incidents mentioned earlier.
Tackling the problem
Minister of Transport, Highways and Mass Media, Dr. Bandula Gunawardena visited the depot about a year ago for an inspection tour. After considering the lack of spare parts, engines, mechanical parts, foreign exchange and so on, Minister Dr. Gunawardena realised that if the buses can be re-run, the public service can be provided to the maximum.
When the Minister was on an official visit to China last year, he negotiated with the Yutong Company and found a way to obtain the spare parts needed at a concessional price without intermediaries.
Therefore, the responsibility was assigned to Kushan Wagodapola, an experienced professional in the field of local and foreign engineering, to repair the buses. Seventeen decommissioned luxury buses belonging to the tourism transport service of the SLTB were thus repaired and put back into service on January 31 under the auspices of Minister Dr. Gunawardena.
The best part is that less than Rs. 10 million have been spent on the buses, which were repaired at the Katubedda depot premises belonging to the luxury tourism transport service, and these buses deployed on the expressway can earn over Rs. 100,000 a day.
Accordingly, the SLTB’s tourism division’s income, which was Rs. 19 million as of last September, has grown to Rs. 42 million as of last January.
We first consulted the engineer in charge of the project, Eng. Kushan Wegodapola. “After the Commonwealth Conference was held in Sri Lanka, these buses provided a very good passenger transport service on the expressway under several Government institutions including the SLTB. But we all know vehicles need spare parts from time to time and there is also the issue of maintenance.
For example, when the ‘starter motor’ of a bus breaks down and it is brought to the garage, a procurement process is initiated to get the spare part. Such a method should be followed when taking spare parts for SLTB. It takes at least a month.
Meanwhile, when another bus is brought in with its ‘alternator’ out of order, if the alternator of the earlier bus is in good condition, it is fixed to the bus brought later and it is put into operation. So, if another bus is brought in needing a new radiator, the radiator of the old bus is installed on it and it is put into operation. It has been done in good faith, because the daily income of this bus is about Rs. 100,000. Therefore, steps have been taken to put it into operation soon. But what is happening day by day is that the procurement process is delayed and the buses are parked without spare parts.
Minister Dr. Gunawardena, called me to fix these buses. Although I was not very interested in the beginning, I volunteered and started the work. Here especially the State Development and Design Corporation (SD&DC) and relevant agents who helped restore these buses. With the Minister’s intervention, spare parts are being ordered from China’s Yutong company and repairs are being carried out.
Before that, a Yutong representative came to Sri Lanka and conducted an investigation.
Thus, by importing spare parts, we save about 25 percent to 30 percent compared to the cost of buying spare parts from this country. There are 89 of these buses in excellent condition. Our aim is to put all the buses in operation soon except for two. At present, bus agents in Sri Lanka, Yutong Company and Lakdiva Engineering Company are making buses. We will receive all the spare parts ordered by April. Therefore, we will be able to run all the buses by April”.
The SD&CC is making a great contribution in repairing the buses. We asked its chairman Kushan Devinda about the project.
“An order came to the SD&CC, which is a full-fledged Government agency, to repair these buses. Of course we do big construction projects. But because we repair all our vehicles such as huge cranes, bulldozers, buses, and so on we initially accepted this as a pilot project to take on the challenge. It was very successful. Therefore, we used another bus for this purpose.
We were shown deficiencies in several areas. Some buses had engine problems and some had problems with water seeping inside. There were some buses with problems with fibreglass. We have a group of officers including engineers with high technical knowledge. Therefore, we gave maximum contribution.
Usually, it costs us about Rs. 1.2 to 1.3 million to repair one of these buses. About Rs. 3 million have been allocated for a SLTB bus. In any case, if this kind of work is done in the open market, it will cost more than Rs. 6 million. But since we are also a Government agency, we took steps to do the work at the minimum cost level.
Usually, a bus is fully renovated and delivered in about a fortnight. For that, about eight people are needed to work on one bus. Also, the side mirrors are sophisticated in design so they look like fibreglass but inside they have an iron bar. Therefore, they should be prepared using light iron and re-fibred. It is also a task that needs to be done with special attention using high technology.’’
Getting the job done
Minister Dr. Gunawardena said that these buses will be back on the road again. Due to the inefficient management that has been going on for some time, there has been a huge collapse in the SLTB, so a new chairman has been appointed and through this the responsibility of turning the Board into an effective and efficient profit-making institution is being fulfilled by eliminating fraud, corruption and irregularities.
The Minister said: “When we came to this place a year ago, we saw very valuable and highly luxurious buses, which were brought for CHOGM.
They were languishing and could not be used for any purpose. Considering the lack of spare parts, engines, mechanical parts, lack of foreign exchange and so on, the responsibility was assigned to Kushan Wagodapola, an experienced professional in the field of local and foreign engineering, to repair these buses.
Being able to repair 17 buses to the level that they can run on the expressway is the result of everyone’s collective efforts. Through this, getting a number of buses valued at more than Rs.1,000 million to be put into operation at a fraction of that cost becomes an extremely important milestone in the history of the SLTB.
Currently, the market value of this luxury bus is more than Rs. 60 million. As the minister in charge, I offer my respect and gratitude to all those who contributed to repair these buses of such high value at a minimum cost. We are also taking steps to conduct a special evaluation for all those who have contributed in the conference held after the finalisation of the SLTB services constitution in a few days.
There are professionals and technicians in our country who have the strength and ability to repair many assets owned by the public sector that have been thrown away in order to recover the fallen country if they work with sincere commitment. I believe that by giving them an opportunity and proper guidance, the rest of the dilapidated buses can be repaired and put into running condition within a few months. Through that, it will be possible to turn the SLTB into a profitable company throughout this year by deploying the entire number of buses that the SLTB can run on highways. For that, the contribution received by other institutions under the Ministry should be especially appreciated.”
According to the instructions of Lalith De Alwis, Chairman of the SLTB, the newly repaired buses have been deployed for expressway operations based on passenger needs and currently a new luxury bus service from Pottuvil to Katunayake has started on the expressway using these new buses.