A welcome move | Daily News


A welcome move

The move by passenger transport authorities to get the police to monitor private buses to ensure they operate to a proper time table is a welcome one indeed. According to a front page news story we carried, the Passenger Transport Authority has observed that private buses, especially those plying long distances fail to adhere to the timetables set down by the Authority and operate willy-nilly disregarding laid down regulations on journey time. Most of the time buses reach their destinations in a shorter time span than specified while at other times these buses drag on ("Kotanawa" in pithy Sinhalese) much to the irritation and annoyance of the passengers.

The police should also be instructed to come down hard on certain private buses which pick up passengers at random points on the way rather than at bus stops. Moreover, certain private bus crews offload passengers midway through the journey on some pretext or other. Although the balance fare is returned this inconvenience passengers and upsets their schedules.

A wholesale transformation is needed in the public transport sector particularly in respect of private bus operators. The Coronavirus pandemic brought in its wake certain welcome changes in the transport sector such as a ban on overcrowding and making all buses and trains strictly adhere to the existing seating arrangements. But what is most needed is discipline. It is time that private bus operators are made to fall in line with the new regulations since for long they have a been a law unto themselves flouting road rules and riding roughshod over passengers. Sometime ago there was a programme launched by the Transport Ministry to teach good manners and etiquette to private bus crew. But from what is on display the crew have not reformed themselves.

Most of the existing laws governing the conduct of private buses are rarely observed and there is no guarantee that this time will be any different. For instance the ban on loud music in private buses introduced with much fanfare is no longer in evidence. In fact even the new seating law is gradually being observed in the breach. Transport authorities must ensure that social distancing in buses and trains is observed to the letter due to the health risk this poses if disregarded.

Of course there are objections from private bus operators on strictly adhering to the new guidelines and many private buses are still off the roads citing the financial unfeasibility of running buses only to half capacity - meaning all this time they have been running overloaded buses.

The Chairman of the Private Bus Operators Association is requesting the Government for low cost fuel to tide over their difficulties. Others point to the economic cost of operating at half capacity and the need for making additional trips to break even. There is also the question of delays encountered by commuters due to the buses operating at half capacity.

The remedy lies in increasing the fleet of SLTB buses and stricter timetables. The seating law, the new measure to get the police monitor timetables and crawling or speeding private buses hopefully would signal a wholesale transformation of the private bus service to bring to heel errant private bus operators who up to now had been having a free run flouting the laws.

They should be made to strictly fall in line with the prevailing health guidelines and adhere to the Highway Code. Mercifully the two month Coronavirus hiatus spared many lives from road accidents - a majority of which are caused by private buses through reckless driving. Let the fresh start made by the country and the changes put in place see an end to deaths on our roads.

As new laws are being enacted to facilitate healthy lifestyles, the Government has won praise for successfully grappling with the pandemic. Now the spotlight should be on alleviating the hardship of persons who have either lost their livelihoods or forced into difficulties due to the prevailing restrictions.

Most encouragingly President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has admirably risen to the occasion ringing in the changes and enforcing reforms to meet the new challenge even going to extent of berating top officials in the higher echelons of the administration for lapses on their part in this respect. Much needs to be done to offer solace to individuals and businesses which are in a state of collapse due to the unprecedented health emergency. There are hitherto self-employed who have either lost their income avenues or are finding it hard going to make ends meet although admittedly the country is limping back to normality.

Those involved in the various sectors in the tourism industry are down in the dumps ranging from travel operators, tour guides and safari operators although encouragingly all National Parks have been opened albeit with a few tourists. A long drawn out solution is called for to address the grievances of all these segments.

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