Painful journeys at sky-high fares

11 July 2017 12:01 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The minimum bus fare was increased from Rs. 9 to Rs. 10 in this year’s amendments. The Cabinet approved a 6.28 price hike on June 20 both in private and government sectors. The amended bus fares were enforced on July 1. An expert committee was appointed to formulate a national policy to revise bus fares.


Noisy and distracting music and musical shows broadcast in private buses that disturb peaceful travelling   


The annual bus fares were revised by 6% in 2016, effective from August 1. The minimum Rs. 8 rose to Rs. 9, according to the Sri Lanka Central Bank Annual Report. It denotes that the private sector ran19,614 buses by 2016, which is higher than the 19,397 buses that were in operation in 2015. The average of daily private bus transportation was marked as 17,131 in 2016 compared to 16,942 recorded in 2015. According to the statistics given in the 2015 annual NTC report, 38.2% of the total motor vehicle transportation demands were for the private buses. It is obvious that private buses have more passengers than SLTB (Sri Lanka Transport Board) buses. The SLTB operated 6178 buses last year, the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation official website reveals. The government policy on public and private bus transportation is that 60% of all travel terms are for the private sector while 40% relates to the government. The 2015 NTC report says a considerable decrease in luxury buses is recorded while the use of semi-luxury buses is on the increase. An estimated 7.7 million people have used the private bus service.   


“The Government is responsible for not regulating the bus service.” - Gemunu Wijerathne, President of Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) 

“The Transport Commission increased the bus fares based on 12 indexes. The price of engine oil, cost of the bus, interest rate, cost of spareparts, refill charges, raw materials, service charges for repairs and most of all, inflation have contributed towards the rise in bus fares.” Gemunu Wijerathne, President of Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) explained the underlining causes.   
“But we insist not to increase the bus fare annually. This increase started in 2002, and now it’s time to stop. If this continues, people will get rid of public transport and use three wheelers and motorcycles that will further worsen the situation,” he said. 

“And however much the fares were increased, the drivers and conductors will take advantage of it. We have already proposed to the government to introduce a new method called ‘paying per kilo-meters scheme’, but they haven’t taken it into consideration yet. We proposed the travel card and it was approved by this year’s budget. If the government implemented the travel card, the raising of bus fares could have been avoided. It’s the failure of the government in not regulating the bus service which had caused this,”he said. 

The LPBOA had been trying to raise bus fares. they had been demanding for a 15% fare hike in July 2016 and were planning a strike on July 3. The strike was halted with the government’s intervention.   
Efforts to obtain a comment from Eng. M.A.P. Hemachandra, chairman of National Transport Commission (NTC) were unsuccessful.   


“Seat dimensions of buses don’t comply with the anthropometric data” Ranjith Withanage, Chairman of National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection (NMCRP) 

“The passengers have many rights due to them with regard to public transport. They possess the right to travel in a peaceful environment which is not disturbed by loud noise. Every passenger has the right to travel in a manner that his mentality is undisturbed. What the buses play on TV or Radio are musical shows with poor taste. The mentality of passengers differ from one another. People who witness those shows are those who love that type of music. We need to keep in mind that every passenger has a different mindsets and taste.   

Most of the buses currently operating possess engines and chassis imported from India. These have been manufactured by TATA or Ashok Leyland. The lorry engines haven’t been made to suit the configurations of a bus. Therefore, travelling in such buses isn’t comfortable. The real buses that are built to carry passengers are the ones used in expressways.   

Commenting on the subject of receiving the due balance, he said, “It’s the right of passengers to be given their change monies, even if it’s just a rupee or or two. If 2000 passengers are denied receiving two rupees change, the conductor will collect 4000 rupees. It boils down to the ignorance of the passengers regarding their own rights. The fares are exhibited in every bus. If passengers are charged more than the actual price, they should make a complain with the Road Passenger Transport Authority. Above all else, passengers should speak up for their rights.   

Countries like Malaysia have developed transport facilities. They use a card system. Semi - luxury bus fare is one and half times the normal rates while travelling by Intercity buses costs double. The full description regarding these categories is unclear and has led to problems. Semi - Luxury buses can’t carry passengers exceeding the seating capacity.   

The 54-seater buses (2x3 seats) imported from India are give a painful physical and mental travel experience to passengers. SLTB officials opine that those 2x3 seater buses are suitable for long distance semi - luxury service only.   

They have revealed that the seat dimensions in buses currently used don’t match with the anthropometric data with regard to the shoulder and hip breadth of Sri Lankans. This situation puts the passengers in great discomfort and difficulty.   

We made a request to the Ombudsmen last year regarding the safety of women passengers. The Ombudsmen called the SLTB officials (delegates came instead of the Chairman). They said that they will use 2x3 seater buses only for long distance travel. They aren’t following the recommendations of the Ombudsmen.   


"If passengers are charged more than the actual price, they should make a complain with the Road Passenger Transport Authority. Above all else, passengers should speak up for their rights"


The bus seat dimensions are decided on by the Motor Traffic Act gazetted on 1983.06.03. The dimensions now in use are based on outdated data collected in 1980’s. According to the gazette, the seat head per passenger is 382 mm. It should be made 450 mm. We Sri Lankans have broad shoulders and hips and are fatter compared to other Asians. The Consumer Rights Organisation is suggesting a revision in both the seat dimensions and regulations in keeping with the recommendations made by mechanical engineers and Health Ministry officials. They have found through another research that the dimensions of buses have been decided without taking into consideration the average size of passengers. The luxury buses have been made taking into consideration the correct measurements and therefore are comfortable.   

“Raising fares can be accepted only if they improve the facilities and service. There are rules imposed on loading cattle into lorries, but none regarding overloading in buses. NTC has the authority to bring in new rules, hence they must consider comments before doing so. We informed the NTC to conduct a survey regarding public opinion, but they turned a deaf ear to us. It would have been better if they considered our opinion. Motor Traffic Transport Commission has the authority to decide the width, length and dimensions of seats regarding vehicles used for public transport.   


Well known irregularities    

Refuelling on the way is common. According to NTC staff, refuelling while transporting passengers is prohibited.   


Keeping the change   

Luxury and semi-luxury buses are charging fees, depending on the passenger’s general appearance and personality.   


Passenger Rights   

  • Bus passenger rights are included in the NTC website. Here are some points which are valuable to commuters.    

  • You have the right to buy a ticket at the start of your journey, prior to the bus leaving the bus stand.   

  • You have the right to obtain a ticket depicting the location of boarding and dismounting, the ticket fare, date, and the number of the bus.   

  • You should be able to travel safely up to the destination to which the fare is paid for.   

  • You should receive courteous, welcoming service by a well mannered, smartly and decently clad bus conductor and driver.   

  • If a bus is offering normal service, children between the ages of 3 and 12 years should be able to travel at half the price charged for adults.   

  • If it’s a luxury bus service, you should enjoy air conditioning facilities and travel in a vehicle not carrying more than the approved number of passengers.  

  • As smoking is forbidden in public transport services, you have the right to travel in a smoke-free environment.  

  • You have the right to oppose the driver driving at high speed, recklessly and dangerously or if he is breaking road rules. You have the right to oppose the use of a mobile phone by the driver when he is driving.  

  • You have the right to travel in a bus that uses only a radio in terms of an audio/visual device. The bus you are travelling in should use a radio to a maximum volume of 80 decibels only.  

  • When travelling in the bus which is under the authority of the licensing department, you should be able to perceive that the doors are closed when the vehicle is moving.  

  • As the paying passenger is the most valued person in the bus, he/she should receive a deserving, polite and friendly service.  

  • You should be serviced by personnel who are not in a state of being intoxicated.  

  • If it is a semi-luxury bus, it shouldn’t carry passengers exceeding the allocated number.  

  • The bus service should start and conclude keeping with the timetable. The starting and concluding times should be displayed inside the bus.  



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