|Tuesday, 28 September 2004|
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The public held to ransom
The threat by private bus operators' unions to cease operations from midnight today in protest at the recent diesel price hike has, understandably, spread alarm among the commuting public. At stake is the mobility and by implication, the livelihoods and general well being of the vast majority of the less privileged of this country who are solely dependent on the public transport system. In other words, the impending bus strike will have a crippling impact on the majority of the local people.
The threatened strike action has all the hallmarks of a wild cat strike on account of its suddenness and unconscionable nature. The authorities appreciate some kind of assistance must be given, but the operators cannot take the law into their own hands. While the hardships caused to bus operators by a fuel price hike need to be appreciated, the precipitous character of the subsequent strike action could in no way be condoned and winked at.
We do not see any reason why the bus operators should seize the strike weapon with such relish when all options at peacefully resolving their dispute have not been fully explored. For instance, they should have initially discussed their problems with the Transport authorities. A compromise with the latter would have saved the day for all concerned, and it is not too late to explore this approach to resolving the problem.
Besides the well being of the commuting public, the Rule of Law is at stake because might is attempting to prove that it is right in this situation. We are compelled to comment that the bus operators are throwing all caution to the wind in this attempt to win their rights and are thereby holding the authorities and the public to ransom. The bus unions - in short - are being blinded by their selfishness.
The exacting demands of the bus unions compel us to question the fairness of the strike action. While strike action is resorted to even at the hint of a rise in fuel prices, the bus commuters' lot has remained unchanged from the inception of the private bus transport system. In other words, the commuter is yet to receive value for money although he has been compelled to bear the brunt of these wild cat strikes, time and again.
For instance, does the commuter receive a civil word from these bus operators? It is common knowledge that private bus commuters are treated with the utmost callousness by bus crews. Nor are their basic comforts ensured. Usually, bus commuters are forced to suffer in silence while bus crews grow fat on the bus passengers' hard-earned money.
A connected problem is the non-issuing of tickets to commuters by crews. This is an illegal operation because every bus commuter is entitled to a ticket on making the relevant payment.
Thus are bus crews making a mockery of the country's laws. Besides, by not issuing tickets, bus crews are evading the responsibility of paying the Inland Revenue authorities what is due to them.
How could bus operators, therefore, take the law into their own hands? We call on them to ponder on these issues.
The last frontier
Commercial space flights will not be a dream any longer if British magnate Richard Branson has his way. He announced a plan yesterday for the world's first commercial space flights, saying "thousands" of fee-paying astronauts could be sent into orbit in the near future.
Branson's Virgin Atlantic airline, which is at the moment limited to flying at 11,000 metres, could soar much higher if this plan succeeds. Virgin has signed a technology licensing deal with the US company behind SpaceShipOne, which in June became the first private manned craft to travel to space.
SpaceShipOne was the culmination of a quest by scientists to make space travel a less exclusive privilege. Virgin's entry to the scene as well as its considerable monetary resources will enable the two partners to make it even more "affordable".
Just imagine the thrill of getting into a plane and some time later, seeing the Earth from space. There will be no shortage of clients for such "space tourism". Of course, the initial flights will be so expensive that only millionaires would be able to afford them. As time goes on, the rates are likely to decrease.
Space tourism, which is still in its infancy, will be the next big thing in aviation which celebrated its centenary last year. Space will no longer be confined to astronauts and cosmonauts as Virgin and other companies vie to send fee-paying passengers to the 'last frontier'. Modern airliners have made inter-continental travel affordable and easy. The 'spaceliners' will do the same at a much higher level, so to speak. Space tourism could indirectly benefit air travel, if the idea results in ultra-fast airliners that actually enter space before descending to another point on Earth.
It is unlikely that Man would stop at the commercialisation of space travel. The Moon will be a coveted target for tourism and in the long term, colonisation. A trip to the Moon could, centuries hence, be an ordinary, uneventful journey. Mars is also a potential candidate for colonisation and even 'terraformation' (a process whereby it is rendered more like Earth), but the logistics are simply mind-boggling in terms of existing technology.
Where there's a problem, there will be a solution. Man will not stop at Mars - he will want to explore the furthest reaches, the unfathomable depths, of space. And among the explorers will be mere mortals like us.
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