Thursday, January 09, 2014

Online visa's, trying to buy bus and railway tickets :Regular frustrations in Sri Lankan life

The Company I work for was expecting some visitors, potential buyers from Africa and South Asia, We told them that they need to apply for business visas and the simplest was to get it on line.

Unfortunately the Process for ETA business not clear. The home page claims that it can be obtained from missions overseas or on arrival. Sri Lanka does not have embassies in all African countries so the buyers thought that the simplest thing would be to get it on arrival.

Apparently this is not how it is supposed to work.

Talked to a friend in the Foreign Ministry, he tells me that the process is to apply for ETA on line, get the on line approval and then get the visa stamped on arrival.

Unfortunately the on line application has no section for business visa. It was there a few weeks ago when we last had visitors but apparently no more. No explanation why it is missing or alternative instructions either. Therefore I need to call the Department of Immigration.

I get in to work early to beat the traffic, so I'm in office by about 7.30am but now I need to cool my heels until about 9am before I can start ringing up the Department of Immigration.

I was advised to speak to an Assistant Director or Deputy Director but the website only has the contact of the Controller, so I rang him up.

Deputy Controller was dealing with a number of people so no time to talk, gave me some other numbers to call. Tried calling, no one picked up. Called again and someone asked me to try the hotline.

Immigration Hotline 1962 does not work. I tried dialling it does not connect. Called the hunting line, waited on hold for a couple of minutes and gave up.

Eventually got through to someone who said that we can make the application in Colombo. We need to go the Department in person with the passport copies and a letter and fill out the application. So much for that.

On a more personal note, there is a weekend coming up, almost a long weekend (if one takes the Monday off its five days at a stretch). No time to plan anything special so am going to visit a friend in Galle.

I will be going alone so no point taking the car, I will take the train instead. Unfortunately it is not possible to buy tickets in advance (let alone online) so one has to go to the station and buy it just before the journey. Due to long queues this may take anything up to an hour.

Since I plan to leave Friday evening the possible trains are the 17.20; the 17.50 or the 18:45 trains. Even if I rush of from office at about 16.45 there is only a slim chance I can make it to the second train, due to the time taken to get a ticket. The last train only reaches Galle at 22:55, which is a bit late.

Added to this the fact that I will have to squeeze in with the office/long weekend crowd and the prospect does not appear very inviting.

Then I had an idea, why not go by the highway bus? The problem is to get to Kottawa to board the bus which is why I chose the train in the first place (getting to Fort or Maradana is easy, Kottawa is a fair way out of town). On balance, given the prospect of being squeezed in 3rd class all the way to Galle, its probably worth the bus ride to Kottawa for the added speed and comfort on the rest of the journey to Galle. Even if I get in at Kottawa at 6.30pm (which I have a decent chance of doing) I will be in Galle by 7.30pm, hurrah!

The problem is that there is no timetable for the highway bus. Online sources claim that the last bus leaves at 4.45pm, which is far too early for me and the only other link is to the Government information hotline (1919) which is fairly helpful but only operates at normal office hours.

I finally get through and am informed that there are buses until 8.40pm and that they leave every 20 minutes, which is a workable proposition. The question is why did I have to search high and low to try and get this basic information?

How can we ever hope to be a hub for information services if such basic things are not in place? 


sbarrkum said...

I am pretty sure the Galle Highway buses start from Pettah CTB stand as well. At least they did a few months back.

Dilhan has pics of the Bus at Pettah

Jack Point said...

Thanks for that! Just called 1919 (Government Info Service) and they told me that this is NOT possible. Only Kottawa is possible, can anyone else confirm this or is there a way to cross check?

sbarrkum said...

Did you try the SLTB numbers

sbarrkum said...

Of course the SLTB website would not have the Central Bus Stand (CBS) phone number. Thats the cryptic CBS on the pull down menu of the contact page.

A little digging and here we have a number and hopefully it works.

Central Bus Stand (+94) 11 2329604-5


Jack Point said...

Just called them, they said no. Highway bus is only from Kottawa.

Anonymous said...

Wow - I would have given up and just stayed at home! Good for you with persisting! :)

Jack Point said...

Thanks, musings:)P

sbarrkum said...

Travelled on Monday and returned on Friday.

Found that initially there was service from Pettah but after the unified Private and SLTB, service from Pettah was discontinued.

It seems like the private buses have less air conditioning compared to the SLTB buses.

The worst public bus station toilet is in Maharagama. Much worse than Chilaw which is quite bad to start with.

Surprised no one has complained.

Jack Point said...

Thanks for the update.

If one were travelling outside of rush hour the train is much more economical I think (about Rs.130 or Rs.180 against Rs.500).