he authorities have agreed with the private bus operators to increase bus fares by six per cent from yesterday. However, the journey in a private bus is a nightmare for the commuters, given the conditions the buses are in including cleanliness and the arrogance of bus conductors and the reckless manner in which the buses are driven by equally arrogant drivers.
Almost all politicians and many public servants who are involved in decision-making may not have travelled in a private or state-owned bus for decades because they have their own luxury vehicles either belonging to the State or obtained on duty-free concessions at the expense of tax payers. Against this background they are unlikely to know the pathetic situation of bus commuters and find a remedy to their woes. In fact even to discuss this issue might be considered to be inferior or unnecessary, leave alone travelling in buses in this country.
The unfortunate fact is that we have a transport service that is rapidly deteriorating by the day despite having had ten transport ministers including those in the provincial councils and thousands of public servants being maintained by taxpayers. They seem to think that this is only a problem facing bus commuters and does not affect others. In fact the transport problem is a national issue that affects the whole country economically and socially.
For instance, one of the causes of the tormenting traffic snarls that often leave the towns and cities at a standstill has been the private buses. In such a scenario it was ridiculous to read of a proposal made by Lanka Private Bus Operators Association (LPBOA) President Gemunu Wijeratne to increase bus fares citing traffic congestion as one of the reasons or his more ridiculous threat to charge commuters for it. For the past two decades more and more people, including those from the lower middle class have opted to buy their own vehicles, at least a motorbike, due to the hassles, harassment and humiliation they have had to suffer at the hands of private bus drivers and conductors resulting in many more thousands of vehicles coming to the roads.
According to operational rosters, a bus has to cover 10 kilometres in about one hour, whereas it would be only a fifteen minute drive in any other vehicle. However, there are several occasions where certain buses prolong their stay at some of the bus halts for more than fifteen minutes thus wasting the invaluable time of millions of people every day, taking them hostage. The irony is that the hostages have to pay for it though not having any say in it.
"Almost all politicians and many public servants who are involved in decision-making may not have travelled in a private or state-owned bus for decades because they have their own luxury vehicles either belonging to the State or obtained on duty-free concessions at the expense of tax payers"
The accumulated number of man-hours wasted by the Sri Lankan bus service on any particular day would run into millions. No minister or a policy-making official being paid from the public coffers seems to have addressed this national crime. At least these two factors point to the fact that the problems faced by the commuters are not only theirs but rather are national problem.
Professor Amal Kumarage, Senior Professor Transport and Logistics Management at the Moratuwa University and the author of the formula for bus-fare revisions had told our sister paper Sunday Times a few days ago that the authorities ignored a clause in the Transport Act that provided for negotiations for a better bus service when talks were being held regarding fare increases. In fact what they ignore is that a decent public transport service is the first step towards road discipline in the country.