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Johnston offers technological solution to expressway tollgate delays

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Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday said that action would be taken to introduce electronic toll collection (ETC) at expressways to help alleviate traffic congestion, reduce delays, fuel consumption, and vehicle emissions.

Fernando said that a cashier at manual toll collection (MTC) centres in expressways takes around 12 to 15 seconds to collect the toll from a single vehicle and hand back the receipt. The ETC could reduce this to around six seconds and help the vehicles leave the expressways faster. This would be very helpful during rush-hours where we usually see lines of vehicles at the toll collection centres, the Minister said.

Minister Fernando said that ETCs are currently installed at the Colombo-Katunayake expressway and they would be introduced to other toll collection centres and inter-changes soon.

He said that it has been found by many studies that highway vehicle emissions could result in adverse health problems to nearby residents and workers, especially during traffic congestion. In response, the policy to promote ETC could help alleviate traffic congestion, as compared to MTC. That could also help reduce air pollution and improve public health. “Expressway users too can help promote this by starting to use pre-paid ETC cards. If we promote the ETC pre-paid card system it could help reduce traffic congestion at inter-changes by allowing drivers to move in and out of toll systems without delay.  The ETCs can improve the speed and efficiency of traffic flow and save drivers’ time. According to foreign studies, the MTCs can handle only about 350 vehicles per hour while an ETC counter could process around 1,200 vehicles per hour. As a result of better flow, congestion is reduced, fuel economy is improved, and pollution is reduced. It could help increase revenue because of time savings, faster throughput, and better service to attract more customers. It has been observed that ETCs could reduce accident rates and improve safety because of less slow-and-go driving. This will increase efficiency of roads because of better distribution between toll and non-toll routes,” the Minister said.

“In short, ETCs mean reduced delay, reduced fuel consumption, and reduced emissions,” the Minister said.

He said that while he had been travelling recently in expressways, it was noticed that some cashier counters at MTCs were shut down. “When I made inquiries from Ministry officials, I was told that there was a shortage of cashiers to serve in toll collection centres. Some of those who had obtained appointments as cashiers in the expressways have been deployed as management assistants at regional offices, citing service requirements. I instructed officials to redeploy them to counters so that it could help speed up the MTC process till we introduce ETCs to all roads.”

The Minister issued those instructions during a meeting held at the Highways Ministry to review the progress of Expressways Operational Management Unit and its future course of action.

Among those present were Secretary to the Ministry of Highways RWR Pemasiri, Director General of the Road Development Authority Sardha Weerakoon and other officials including, the director of the Expressways Operational Management Unit.



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Keheliya turns down request for abolishing price control on medicine

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Industry leader has sought court intervention

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella yesterday (17) said that in spite of difficulties caused by the foreign currency crisis price control on imported medicines couldn’t be done away with.

Abolition of price control on drugs would heap an enormous burden on the vast majority of people, Minister Rambukwella said.

Lawmaker Rambukwella said so when The Island sought his response to the Sri Lanka Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (SLCPI) requesting the government to do away with price control. Claiming that the grouping imported over 80 percent of medicines into the country, the SLCPI recently warned of possible collapse of the industry unless remedial measures were taken swiftly.

Minister Rambukwella said that recently he met an SLCPI delegation at their request to discuss issues at hand. “Of course, I understand the difficulties experienced by all sectors, including the pharmaceutical trade. However, price control as regards medicine cannot be done away with,” Minister Rambukwella said.

The SLCPI has pointed out to the Minister that at the moment medicines were the only commodity under price control in the local market. The Health Minister asserted that it wouldn’t be fair to compare the medicine with other commodities.

Minister Rambukwella said that regardless of constrains, the government was trying to ensure uninterrupted supply of medicine and it wouldn’t be fair to do at this juncture.

In a statement sent to the media SLCPI asserted: “There is no solution to this dilemma than removing the price control of medicines and implement a fair and equitable pricing mechanism which will link the price of medicines to the dollar, inflation and direct costs such as raw material, fuel and freight charges, which will then make importing and marketing of medicines viable. As difficult as it may sound, the authorities will have to choose between having medicines at a cost and not having medicines at all.”

The SLCPI has already sought the intervention of the courts to establish what the grouping called a transparent pricing mechanism outside government price control.

Recently, Minister Rambukwella, at a meeting also attended by State Minister Dr. Channa Jayasumana called for a report on the requirement of medicines over the next six months. The Health Ministry declared that there was no shortage of drugs whereas SLCPI claimed some drugs were in short supply and the situation could get worse.

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Central Expressway: Rs 3 mn raked in within 12 hours

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Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said yesterday that about three million rupees had been earned by way of toll within the first 12 hours of the opening of the second phase of the Central Expressway.

Rs 2,805,100.00 had been paid by the expressway users during the first 12 hours from 12 noon to midnight Sunday (16) after its opening by the President and the Prime Minister on Saturday (15).

The Minister said that during the first 12 hours of the period of toll collection, a total of 13,583 vehicles had traversed the most  scenic road stretch in the country between Mirigama and Kurunegala. No traffic accidents had been reported during the 12 hour period.

Minister Fernando said that the newly opened road had been allowed to be used by the public free of charge for 12 hours from midnight Saturday (15) to Sunday (16) noon.

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President to inaugurate second session of Ninth Parliament today

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by Saman Indrajith

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is scheduled to commence the second session of the Ninth Parliament today at 10 am with his third Presidential policy statement (formerly Throne Speech).

He made his first ‘Throne Speech’ on Jan 3, 2020, opening the Fourth Session of the Eighth Parliament and the second on Aug 20, 2020 to open the First Session of the Ninth Parliament.

Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake said that MPs have been requested to arrive at the parliamentary complex at 9.25 am the latest.

The MPs, if accompanied by their spouses will alight from their vehicles at the Staff Entrance of the parliamentary building, while all other MPs are requested to drive up to the Members’ Entrance.

To facilitate orderly arrival, the MPs are requested that the Car Label provided them with be pasted on the inside top left-hand corner of the windscreen of their vehicles. On arrival at Parliament, Members’ vehicles would be directed by the Police to the appropriate Car Park.

Thereafter the MPs are requested to enter the lobbies of Parliament and to remain there until the Quorum Bells are rung.

President Rajapaksa is scheduled to arrive at the Main Steps of the Parliament Building at 9.40 a.m. and he would be received by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

The President will be escorted by them to the Parliament Building. Thereafter, the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament will escort the President to his Chambers.

At 9.55 a.m. the Quorum Bells will be rung for five minutes and all Members will take their seats in the Chamber of Parliament.

The President’s procession will leave for the Chamber of Parliament and will enter the Chamber at 10.00 am. On entering the Chamber the President’s arrival will be announced whereupon all Members will stand in their places until the President reaches the Chair and requests the Members to be seated.

Thereafter, the Proclamation proroguing the Parliament and Summoning the Meeting of Parliament will be read by the Secretary General of Parliament. Then, the President will address Parliament.

After his policy statement the President will adjourn the House until 1.00 p.m. on Wednesday (19).

Thereafter, the President will leave the Chamber escorted by the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

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