The public should pressure the government to regulate Colombo’s bus and 3-wheeler services, an expert said at a recent forum.
“The key is this public partnership and public ownership. As long as those who matter sit back and tell the politicians “you messed it up” that’s all that will happen,” University of Moratuwa Transport and Logistics Management Department Senior Lecturer Professor Amal Kumarage said. He said that the 3-wheeler and bus industries are perceived to be untouchable by politicians, as they are political powers.
“It’s a perception we have that these industries cannot be touched, and I think these are systems that we must be willing to take on and change,” Prof. Kumarage said.
Based on reports, it could be estimated that there are now nearly 1 million 3-wheelers in the country, mostly centred in the Western Province.
“We have 8,000 buses in this province, twice the number we need. Three 3-wheelers for 1 we need. School buses, taxis and trucks are at least 100 percent more than what we need. So, are we going to continue this?” Prof. Kumarage asked.
He said that due to the excess in supply, the transport businesses increase prices to account for the demand mismatch.“Everybody’s happy to add on and pass it onto the consumer. In India, you can ride 5 km in a 3-wheeler for 30 Indian rupees, here they won’t budge for that,” he said.
Further, while the ticket prices on buses fell following the fuel price drop in January, most 3-wheeler drivers refused to lower prices, and still charge around Rs. 40-50 per km, even though some 3-wheelers have been observed to charge as low as Rs.28-30 per km.
While the new regime announced that regulations will be brought in to put meters on all 3-wheelers, laws have not been passed. Drivers in 3-wheelers without meters usually charge around 2-3 times the cost for a trip taken in a meter 3-wheeler.
It has been reported that 3-wheeler drivers—especially those based near hotels and popular shopping and entertainment centres—tamper their meters using various methods to charge excessive fares.
It has also been observed that most 3-wheelers and buses do not adhere to road rules in Colombo, and police officers do not make an effort to curb these bad practices. Reckless driving of these vehicles has caused discomfort for the passengers and other vehicle drivers on the road.
“These buses are there to serve 5 million people in this province. Don’t their votes count? We need politicians who will see beyond the few votes that the 3-wheelers and the buses bring and see that the people receive a better service, and are willing to take that challenge forward,” Prof. Kumarage said.