Tucked away on Page 4 of the September 11 Daily Mirror is an alarming if not shocking news item quoting Lanka Private Bus Owners Association (LPBOA) President Gemunu Wijeratne as saying that some 50 per cent of private bus drivers and conductors countrywide are addicted to narcotic drugs.
He said this was the main reason for the collapse of the private bus industry. Mr. Wijeratne said the bus crew previously addicted to ‘ganja’ had now graduated to the use of crystal methamphetamine, popularly known as ‘ice’ and lamented that drug addiction was on the increase because of the mental stress caused by the lack of parking areas, the absence of proper timetables, competition among bus drivers and having to cope with traffic congestion.
Meanwhile, in his complaint to the Police, the Transport Minister and the National Council on Road Safety, Mr. Wijeratne said the bus crew earned extra cash by surreptitiously avoiding to give commuters the balance due on the fare and added that whatever thus collected at the end of the day was being used to fund their addiction to narcotics.
In such a scenario, it is not hard to imagine why some bus drivers act like maniacs ignoring all road and traffic rules with their reflexes and eye sights blunted resulting in so many road accidents with several of them being fatal.
Several have been the letters we have received from commuters of having been badmouthed or assaulted when he or she asks for the balance or should they happen to ask for the bus ticket for the bus fare charged. Conductors rarely if at all issue tickets. Some of them carry the ticket machine that is mostly for show to avoid being ticked off by an alert ticket checker, now a breed rarely seen on roads and seldom seen carrying out spot checks on buses.
The letters we receive from commuters are many telling us about the hazards of bus travel,which keep increasing by the day. Apart from the conductor not issuing the ticket and in some cases the correct balance the driver is in a mighty big hurry to start the bus even while the commuter who is getting off the bus has only one foot on the ground and the conductor keeps shouting, asking him or her to get off quickly.
Most buses have re-arranged their seats, probably to squeeze in a couple of extra seats resulting in not having sufficient leg space or space and the seats too narrow to seat two commuters with the one seated on the edge forced to have a part of the buttocks outside.
Another problem is the loud music that keeps blaring out from several speakers and the television set found in buses. While begging in buses has been banned on the grounds of being a public nuisance, the noise pollution is a bigger public nuisance and a menace. At the end of the journey the commuter is left bruised and battered.
We talk so much about Sri Lanka’s culture and traditions but this is hardly to be seen or experienced when travelling by bus where the driver and the conductor are so rude to commuters whether they are males, females or the elderly with the driver only keen to get ahead of the bus in front or to keep ahead of the bus that’s behind.
Those who have had the opportunity of going abroad would have seen how courteous, patient and well-mannered the bus crews in those countries are about whose culture some of us are in the habit of disparaging.
Before giving uniforms which are more often than not in urgent in need of a good wash, the Transport Ministry and the LPBOA should educate bus crews to be kind and courteous to commuters who are compelled to travel in these buses which some commuters describe as a ‘hell’ on wheels.
Against the background of the shocking revelation made by LPBOA President Gemunu Wijeratne, the reasons for the breakdown in the private bus industry and the risks that commuters take when travelling by bus is more than evident.
We close with a statement by Dr. Manoj Fernando,the Secretary of the Experts Committee on Tobacco, Alcohol and Narcotics Use saying in a media report that when the lack of experience in safe driving was combined with the use of narcotics or alcohol, the results could be tragic. He urged those addicted to narcotics and alcohol to become aware of their social responsibilities and avoid getting behind the wheel when under the influence of narcotics or alcohol.