Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ceylon Transport Board

Ceylon Transport Board
The Ceylon Transport Board (CTB) was the nationalised enterprise which handled all public bus transport in Sri Lanka between 1958 and 1978. At its peak, it was the largest omnibus company in the world - with about 7,000 buses and over 50,000 employees.

The first motor omnibus in Sri Lanka was imported in 1907 and bus transport began in Sri Lanka as an owner-operated service. There was no regulation, so when more than one bus operated on a single route there was a scramble for the load, which might end in fisticuffs or even stabbings. By the mid-1930s, malpractices in pursuit of maximum profit began to compromise safety and comfort. The setting up of the limited liability omnibus companies by the British around 1940 was the first meaningful step in regularising public passenger transport in the country.
Controlling legislation was strengthened in 1951 with the introduction of a system of quantity and quality licensing, similar to what then applied in Great Britain. Nevertheless conditions again deteriorated.
The earliest buses plied on the main routes only and had open bodies. Passengers got in from both sides of the bus and through a door at the back. The openings were covered with buttoned down leather cloth which could be rolled up when necessary. The Nelson Commission appointed by the British government to look into shortcomings in bus transport in Sri Lanka recommended replacing open body buses with closed body buses, which came to be known as ‘Nelson body’ buses.

The Ratnam Survey in 1948, the Sansoni Survey in 1954 and the Jayaratna Perera Survey in 1956 studied the bus services in Sri Lanka and all recommended that the companies should be nationalised.
In 1957, the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna government led by Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike decided on the nationalisation of bus services. In order to provide a better service to the people, he established the Ceylon Transport Board on 1 January 1958.
The inaugural trip of the CTB took the Prime Minister and the Transport and Works Minister Maithripala Senanayake on a maroon luxury Mercedes-Benz bus imported from Germany. This bus is still owned by the Nittambuwa Bus Depot.
The creation of a single nationalised entity made possible long distance operations and running buses on a large number of rural routes. To supplement the company buses that were vested in the CTB, a record number of buses and bus chassis were imported. Leyland, Wayne, Hino and Magirus Deutz buses and even a Škoda bus with a trailer were imported. Hundreds of ex-London Transport single-decker C & CR Leyland Cubs, TD Leyland Tigers, AEC Regal RFWs and all-diesel double-decker RTL, D and RT Leyland, Daimler and AEC buses arrived in the 50s and 60s from London Transport.[1] [2] Steps were taken to convert other buses to diesel fuel.
The CTB was given a good start under the Chairmanship of Vere de Mel of the Ceylon Civil Service (and of Quickshaws, the private Taxi Company). Thereafter the services deteriorated and the Board ran into financial difficulties owing to mismanagement.
In 1964 Anil Moonesinghe of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) became Minister of Communications, in overall charge of the transport, including the CTB. He took a very close interest in the running of the organisation. He introduced workers' councils on the Yugoslav model to participate in management, with a resultant improvement in morale and efficiency. He expanded the bus services, most notably in Jaffna, where the ex-London Transport double-deckers were very popular and broke the monopoly on public transport by illicit private operators.
Moonesinghe took steps to set up a Central Bus Station (CBS) in the central Colombo district of Pettah, close to the main Fort Railway Station. He started the Central Workshops at Werahera, just outside Colombo, which built bus bodies out of Aluminium and carried out engine repairs and overhauls. The fleet strength was continuously increased by the addition of more second hand London buses. FIAT and OM Tigrotto buses were imported new. The FIAT company also gifted about 50 cars (in lieu of commission), which were used by the CTB's Flying Squad. He was in the middle of negotiating with the FIAT company to build buses in Sri Lanka when the Government of which he was a minister fell in 1965.
The incoming United National Party regime recruited a large number of political supporters as staff, so that the hitherto favourable employee/bus ratio increased and made the CTB a loss-making institution. The pending agreement with FIAT, which would have enabled Sri Lanka to export buses to China, was scrapped and a deal was made with British Leyland instead. The workers' councils were also scrapped.

Golden Age
In 1970, the United Front government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike was returned to power, with Leslie Goonewardena of the LSSP as Minister of Transport. The CTB workers immediately took matters into their own hands and reconstituted the workers' councils. On their demand, Anil Moonesinghe (now no longer an MP) was brought back as Chairman and General Manager.

Anil Moonesinghe would dress in a bush shirt and trousers and operate as a one-man flying squad to catch errant bus crews in the act, lying in wait in his metallic blue Volkswagen Variant or his Citroën 2CV at places like Dematagoda Junction to prowl on them. Stories would abound (all untrue) of him being spotted disguised with a beard. In order to prove that eight buses could be serviced in a day, he once carried out eight vehicle services at the Central Workshops, Werahera).

The CTB originally painted its buses red and blue, and the second-hand London Transport which were the backbone of the modern fleet just needed to be half-painted in blue, saving on costs. When Aluminium bus bodies became the norm, large areas of the surface were left unpainted, with just red front and back and blue strips down the side, in order to save money.Logo of the SLTB at present.

The Logo was originally a blue oval with the words 'CTB' and the equivalents in Sinhala and Tamil painted on it in red. From 1970 this was replaced by an oval with a lion rampant or on field azure.

The present SLTB logo returns to the 1970s heraldic symbols, but with 'SLTB' instead of 'CTB' in Roman lettering, with 'Sri' added to the Sinhala script (with no change in the Tamil script).

Sri Lanka Transport Board
200,Kirula Road,
Colombo 05
Sri Lanka.

General Telephone No:
94 (0) 11- 2581120- 9
Fax No: 94 (0) 11- 2368921
E mail :