Three-wheelers drivers dismayed by age bar | Daily News

Three-wheelers drivers dismayed by age bar

President, Cabinet oppose gazette notification

With the Transport and Civil Aviation Ministry’s gazette to issue driving licences to three-wheeler drivers only of age 35 and above, several concerns pertaining to its practicality were raised by three-wheel drivers’ unions, which expressed their displeasure over the government’s decision.

National Council for Road Safety Chairman Dr. Sisira Kodagoda said the Transport Ministry made the decision following a proposal submitted by him, adding that the decision was made by the Ministry in view of the increasing number of road accidents caused by three-wheelers.

However, the President and Cabinet of Ministers revoked the gazette notification issued. The Cabinet of Ministers had insisted that there should not be a bar on any age group, although the relevant gazette notification was issued by the Transport and Civil Aviation Ministry. It is also reported that the President was also not in favour of the Ministry’s decision. One Cabinet Minister said that the proposal failed as the majority of Cabinet members had opposed it.

Dr Kodagoda said that the President has asked him to review the proposal that was presented to the Minister.

“I am still working on the new proposal and it will be presented to the President very soon. Even though the gazette notification has been issued, the final decision would be taken considering the concerns of the President,” he said.

He said that accidents caused by three-wheeler drivers are on the rise and they tend to be involved in many unlawful activities. He noted that driving a three-wheeler has turned out to be a job opportunity for youth and they prefer that to becoming skilled labourers.

Dr Kodagoda said that the final decision would be taken before the end of September, that is, before the budget proposals are finalised.

‘Gazette notification still valid’

Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva released a gazette in mid July, which allows only those who are 35 and above to obtain a driving licence for three-wheelers.

The proposal to impose an age restriction on three-wheeler drivers was first made by Minister de Silva. Speaking to the media, the Minister said that there were about 1.2 million three-wheelers in the country and new rules and regulations would be introduced regarding the transportation of passengers in three-wheelers.

The Minister said passenger transportation in three-wheelers began at the end of the 1980s and there were no laws to regulate the service.

Dr Kodagoda said that under the Motor Traffic Act, the licences obtained by three-wheeler drivers earlier would not be cancelled.

“Those who obtain new three-wheeler driving licences for passenger transport should undergo several examinations and should be 35 or above. Those under the age of 35 would be eligible for three-wheeler driving licences only for home use. When issuing a licence, the Ministry would check whether the applicant was involved in any criminal activities,” he said.

He said applicants should undergo a two-week training course as recommended by the Commissioner General of Motor Traffic.

However, Dr. Kodagoda said that with the Cabinet and the President’s displeasure over the decision, it will be reviewed.

In the meantime, Transport Secretary G.S. Withanage said that the Ministry did not receive any Cabinet decision expressing their objection regarding this matter.

“We were not informed about any objection to the move. As the Minister has gazetted the decision, it is valid according to the law,” he said.

He said that there were several reasons such as indiscipline, violation of road rules, and road accidents caused by three-wheelers which led the Ministry to take that decision.

Concerns of three-wheeler drivers’ unions

Three wheeler drivers’ unions expressed their strong objection to the decision made by the Ministry. They said that it was impractical and would not make any change as expected.

All Island Three-Wheeler Drivers’ Association Chairman Sudil Jayaruk said that they vehemently condemned the decision. “No matter what happens, we will not let them implement it,” he said.

He noted that it was a fact that after leaving school, youth opt for driving three-wheelers as a profession. Immediately after leaving school or dropping out of school, they get a three-wheeler on lease and drive it to earn an income.

Jayaruk also accepted that students do not get into skilled jobs these days and do not opt for or hardly have opportunities to get into an industry, adding that if these young people are marginalised, achieving sustainable economic growth would be impossible.

According to Jayaruk, the age limit was important, but the decision taken by the Ministry to address the issue was unfair.

“We suggested that the age limit should be 25. So the youth cannot just stay at home. They will have to find some means of earning a living. Those who cannot find any other job will choose to drive three-wheelers. It is true that many are involved in drug trafficking and other unlawful activities. They need to be taught psychology, road rules, the traffic law and the Penal Code. They should be given training for two years. By 27, they would be ready to begin passenger transportation. They also should be given some recognition,” he explained.

He noted that in 2017 a gazette was issued to form a regulatory commission to look into the issues and concerns of three-wheeler owners and three-wheeler drivers, but it was never formed. Jayaruk claimed that the Ministry is not concerned about the passengers.

One of the other concerns Jayaruk had was the entry of foreign taxi companies in Sri Lanka and added that it has become a monopoly in the industry.

“It is a threat to individual three-wheeler drivers. The passengers also tend to trust them more. There are nearly eight lakhs of three-wheeler drivers. They are a group of people who have the power to effect change in this democratic country,” he said.

Jayaruk was of the opinion that no person would wait until the age of 35 to become a three-wheeler driver. “I request the government to appoint the regulatory commission and safeguard this transport sector,” he said.

Statistics show there are roughly 1.059 million three-wheelers registered with the Registrar of Motor Vehicles. A three-wheeler requires at least one driver. Out of the 7.8 million employed population, 1.2 million are estimated to be three– wheeler drivers. This is a staggering 15.4 percent of the working population.

However, research suggests that less than 500,000 drivers actually engage in three-wheeler driving full-time and the average income ranges from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 40,000 per month. There are many who work as part-timers to supplement their income.

Three-Wheeler Drivers’ Union President Lalith Dharmasekara said that the gazette was still valid as the Minister has already gazetted it.

‘We help people’

“The government is not providing any good form of transportation for the public. When there is a train or bus strike, it is we three-wheeler drivers who help people. During the last Railway strike, we dropped students sitting the A/L exam at school. We are in every junction to help people out. We will not let them implement the age restriction. We are a community of 30 lakhs. We can still make a considerable change. The government should understand the plight of the three-wheeler drivers,” he said.

Piyumal Ratnayake, a three-wheeler driver in Pettah said that they have no future and their living is totally dependent on the income derived from driving three-wheelers for hire. “There is an increase in three-wheelers. I totally agree with that. But we cannot do anything about it,” he said.

He has been in this job for the past 15 years and he used to get a lot of hires previously.

Another three-wheeler driver from Pettah, K. Asanka said people use apps and get their three-wheelers to their location and that has made earning an income difficult for them.

“The government should look into that seriously. While three-wheeler drivers already have lot of issues to deal with, the Ministry is coming up with new ones such as the age limit,” he said.

He said that they spend most of their time waiting for a customer on the road.

DIG Traffic Ajith Rohana said that there is a necessity to form a special authority to regulate the three-wheeler service by providing proper training and guidance for those involved in the industry.

He said Sri Lanka should adopt international norms and practices in order to reduce the occurrence of accidents. “If a person drives passenger vehicles, he needs to have extra qualifications. Completion of 18 years is not a sufficient qualification to carry passengers,” he said.


 

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