If we are to prevent Colombo and other leading cities from becoming ghost towns, we must take immediate action. A transparent and accountable fuel distribution system is the need of the hour. Only then can we ensure our limited fuel stocks will be efficiently utilized. CEO of PickMe, Zulfer Jiffry, stated the time has come for smart thinking to find solutions to this crisis.,
He explains, “The digitalization of our systems can give us an edge in overcoming the crisis we are all facing today. To have minimal transport, for an emergency, for work, or even to get about our day-to-day living like shopping for essentials is an absolute need. But we are coming to the point where the whole system is gradually draining, which may cause the country to come to a complete standstill. Therefore, it is urgent to have a sensible form of rationing until the next fuel ship comes in, and, in doing this, fuel distribution does not become part of black market racketeering. While mass transport can act as a base, it is essential to have a second level of public transportation, and ride-hailing taxis fit the bill perfectly.
Already, several reports have identified an active black market operating in Sri Lanka for petrol and diesel. This phenomenon, unfortunately, does not ensure the efficient use of our minimum stocks. To meet urgent needs and prioritize emergencies, PickMe suggests that authorities try out a pilot program where fuel supply for the transport of passengers will be done via a digital pool. This program could take the form of a digitally operated transport system with specific quotas of fuel assigned. Thereby ensuring it can be utilized by both private vehicles and the public transport system. Further, the need for passenger transport in urban areas can be fulfilled by State policy assigning a quote for three-wheelers operating in the taxi-hailing ecosystem. Thus, ensuring the requirements for passenger transport in the city can be met equitably.
“The digital platforms would monitor the movement of their vehicles under this program to ensure fuel is allocated correctly and transparently. For example, if we take a figure of 10,000 three-wheelers with an 80,000-litre quota, they can do approximately 200,000 trips around the city, moving around 400,000 passengers daily. We can monitor this through our software to ensure accuracy and transparency and even be subject to an audit. The system we propose will be directly tied to the mileage of the three-wheelers. If we find the set criteria are not met, we would immediately take those drivers off the system. It is necessary to look at systems such as this to operate in the 4 main provinces to keep the provincial GDPs on an even keel, which is a dire need right now, and transport is a vital part of achieving this,” Jiffry says.
Of course, the question remains about where fuel allocation should be prioritized first. Analyzing the economic activities of each province helps us understand where limited fuel stocks should be directed to fuel the national economy. Based on this, priority can be given to fuel for the provinces contributing the heaviest. The Western Province would be at the top of the list with these criteria.
According to data provided by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the Western Province contributes 38% of the national GDP, which is over 1/3rd of all economic activity in Sri Lanka. Essential to the Western Province’s economic activities are services and industry, which involve heavy fuel consumption. The report says the western province has pioneered industry activities with a contribution of 44.6 percent. In terms of services, the Western Province recorded the highest contribution of 39.3 percent (Table 1). If the Western Province is taken by itself, 61.7% of its economic activities are in the service sector (Figure 2).
In closing, Jiffry stated, “Given this, how we need to prioritize fuel distribution is clear. The Western Province has to come first overall, and if we prioritize industry, the Central Province comes second and the North-Western province third. If we prioritize services, the Central and Southern Provinces will come second and third, respectively.”