After much deliberation, the Cabinet of Ministers on Tuesday approved a 12.5% bus fare hike, with the minimum bus fare now becoming Rs.12 for the first segment of the journey. Deputy Minister of Transport Ashoka Abeysinghe assured the public that approval for this hike was granted on the condition that there would be no bus fare increase for the next two years.
Stakeholders of the transport sector held opposing views over the matter. The Inter-Provincial Private Bus Association stated that the revision was satisfactory, even though their initial request was for a 15% increase in the bus fare. Meanwhile the Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association charged that the increment would lead to a total collapse of the national policy on bus fare increments as it would only serve as a short term benefit. The Association was referring to the condition that there would be no fare hikes for the next two years.
While the stakeholders debated the rationale behind the increase, the Daily Mirror queried from the public about their views on the public transportation sector. We asked consumer rights activists, passengers and daily commuters about their experiences, if they were aware of passenger rights and if the bus fare hike was justifiable in terms of the service they receive.
- Ranjith Vithanage
Chairman of the National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection
“As passengers we are completely against this price hike. There is an accepted and established national policy on bus fares, which is usually revised in July. This move to raise the bus fares from 6.5% to 12.5% is simply absurd,” Vithanage said.
He charged that authorities are busy playing to the audiences of bus operators rather than serving the commuter. “It is baffling as to why the Minister of Transport was not involved in this matter while only the Deputy Minister was involved in all the discussions held with bus operators. The people’s concerns were rejected and the Minister tabled this move in the Cabinet simply to satisfy certain operators. Several prominent bus operators meanwhile even rejected this decision,” he alleged.
“A Cabinet paper was tabled in an unusual manner to make this fare hike possible. There are 12 indexes to be considered when raising bus fares and fares cannot be raised according to the whims and fancies of certain groups. There was only a possibility or raising the fare to 9%. There was no need to raise the minimum fare just because the fuel price changed, which is only one of the 12 indexes. If the authorities cannot abide by the policies, there is in fact no need for a National Transport Commission,” Vithanage opined.
“SLTB buses more reliable”
- Dulani Yapa, Kandy
I would totally avoid taking mass transport offered by the private sector if there are Sri Lanka Transport Board buses in the vicinity. The state service is much better compared to private buses, in terms of discipline, dispensing change and especially not playing loud music. Usually the state service buses offers the passenger room to breathe.
“No other option”
-Sash Ranasinghe Kurunegala
Using public transport is like committing suicide. But since we have no other option we have to tolerate all these tribulations. Very recently my mother met with an accident due to a private bus driver’s reckless driving.
“Attitudes differ but most drivers reckless”
- Hasitha Fernando, Tellippalai
A vast majority of the bus crew are unruly and complete with rude conductors whose only intention is to pack their respective vehicle with as much passengers as possible. (Think sardines packed in a tin) The sole purpose of the driver of their vehicle is to overtake, over-run their competition to get to the next bus stop before the other bus. On occasion though there are a few kind conductors and careful drivers but these are only a handful. In the North of the country, there is a difference in the overall passenger experience. The conductors are kinder. But the drivers are still reckless. They just honk their horn loudly which only makes the experience more nauseating for the passenger, especially with the loud music.
“Harassed by nauseating music”
- Kovida Bakmeedeniya, Rajagiriya
Generally sounds over 85 decibels for more than 30 minutes cause ear damage. I have not measured this, but I am sure the loud music and the radio programmes blaring in the passenger’s ear at any given time, is not only harassment, but causes ear damage. This is especially true when travelling towards home after work. I usually get down with ringing in my ears and absolute disgust of the taste of music these people have. Once a lady in the bus complained and asked the conductor to lower the volume, to no avail.
“A struggle for survival”
- Nathasha Narampanawa, Peradeniya
Getting to work and coming back home alive is a struggle for survival simply because of the state of transport in Sri Lanka. Drivers, be it a bus driver or a tuk driver, often do not have any regard for the well-being or emotional state of passengers. Recently, I was in a bus that was racing from Peradeniya to Kandy, and only slowed down when the husband of a pregnant passenger went up to the driver to complain. We are supposed to move in seconds and dive out of buses when they slow down at the bus halt, just to avoid being scolded by the conductor. I have witnessed many accidents because passengers are pressured to get down like this and I think many of us can relate to this experience.
“Policy makers never use public transport”
- Danushka Alahakoon, Dehiwala
We’re harassed by loud music on most days. Even if we complain to reduce or mute the music they don’t really pay attention to our requests. Policy makers never use public transport and that is probably why they don’t understand what the general population goes through every day. However when I recently called 1955, the hotline to lodge complaints about buses, they responded well saying that swift action would be taken. At least the hotline seems efficient.
“Prefer trains over buses”
- Devaka Perera, Kandy
I think bus fares should be raised on a specific pricing formula. There is nothing much to talk about our rights when asking for the Rs. 1 balance is not worth the nagging from the bus conductors. I prefer travelling by train over buses. I can book my seat and have reasonable leg space. And it’s more convenient to avoid traffic rather than sit through it and witness all sorts of traffic violations and listening to the loud music. Nobody will bother to take their personal vehicle if there is a comfortable and reliable public transport system.
“Hikes justified if comforts provided”
- Heshan Welgolle, Maharagama
Passengers have no rights in Sri Lanka. I travel to office daily by train as it is the fastest mode of transport and is very economical. But the government should take matters into their hands to resurrect a dead public transport service. It is very rarely that even trains work on schedule. There are delays at least twice a week. I have experienced delays ranging from 30 minutes to 3 hours. Imagine being stuck in a confined place until you reach the next stop? Windows are closed when it rains, fans never work. People faint due to lack of oxygen.
I have used public transportation in foreign countries where you buy a card, swipe it and reach your destination. Top up the amount up when you want to. In Sri Lanka, the queue to buy tickets, to renew the monthly season, let alone the process of obtaining a monthly season pass is absurd. I had to go to studios to get photographs, get them certified by a JP and apply and wait for 3 months to receive a passport like book, which I can’t even slip in my wallet. Why can’t we use a reusable card? Is it so hard to maintain such a time saving service? And there is no authority to monitor patterns on these public transport services. It is totally worth increasing the price of services if proper comforts are provided to the passenger. It is a complete waste of productive time and energy
Many people we spoke to were of the opinion that passengers have no rights in Sri Lanka and that the fare hike was not justified in par with the service and comfort they receive. Commuters also highlighted the need to upgrade the railway service to compliment the bus network, while some others pointed out that policy makers need to experience the ground situation in order to restore and revive the public transportation system in the country.
It is imperative to note that the absence of a prudent fare policy has given way to many issues in the industry, resulting in the deterioration of the overall quality of service. With the nature of public transport directly affecting socio-economic activities of the country, the government must implement a coherent and transparent policy on national transport while ensuring its effective implementation through an active National Transport Commission.