The Private Bus Owners Association (PBOA) yesterday claimed that most drivers and bus conductors behaved like `animals` (thirisannu) and blamed the government and provincial authorities for failing to impose standards. `These drivers and conductors of private buses are a useless group of people,` declared Gemunu Wijeratne, head of the PBOA. `They behave like animals. It?s come to the level of unemployed people and kudu karayas and nobody is checking their standards at all. There is no discipline. The accidents will only get worse if this situation is allowed to continue.`
When The Island inquired from the Railway Department whether measures would be taken to increase the length of the barrier at railway crossings, Transportation Superintendent of the Department G. R. P. Chandrathilaka said the department spends Rs. 15 million for each barrier currently in use and three million rupees for each temporary barrier. He said there were hundreds of railway crossings without even temporary barriers.
He added that the department hadn?t the funds necessary to increase the length of the barriers, which presently cover only half the width of highway.
`I have continuously proposed to the government and provincial authorities that we introduce regular time-tables,` he continued. `This would prevent several buses from leaving the terminus at the same time and, thus, racing each other.`
`The National Transport Commission (NTC) told me one month ago that they will introduce proper time-tables within three months,` Wijeratne noted. `So far, they haven?t even touched that proposal.`
When it was pointed out that owners ? members of his own association ? were responsible for hiring conductors and drivers, Wijeratne passed the buck. He reiterated that regulations must be laid and imposed by the government and provincial authorities.
NTC Chairman Dr Amal Kumarage vehemently rejected these claims and said that interested parties ? including private bus owners ? had prevented the commission from introducing urgent regulations. Asoka Gunasekera, an NTC consultant commissioned with drawing up time-tables, had even been shot last October. He is still recovering from his injuries.
`They strike whenever we try to take action, holding millions of passengers and the economy at ransom,` Kumarage said. `As a result, we have not been able to introduce laws. We have been working on this at tremendous risk to ourselves.`
`We have now decided to introduce new regulations within two weeks,` he stressed. `The process will be expedited and we will not allow anybody to prevent us. These rules and regulations are long overdue.
Several interested parties prevented us from introducing them.`
In November, the NTC had been in the process of introducing reforms (including time-tables) when they were prevented by street protests and threats of strike action. Neither protests nor strike action will now derail introduction of new laws, said Kumarage.
`At least we will be able to prevent future incidents of the nature that happened at Polgahawela,` he concluded.
Meanwhile, Wijeratne claimed that there was an oversupply of buses on most routes. `Anyone can buy a bus and put it on the road after obtaining an individual permit from relevant authorities,` he said. `That?s what?s happening now. The situation is getting worse.`
Bus drivers and conductors had their own grievances. The conductor of a 168 bus told The Island that he had just left his job. He now drives a three-wheeler. `It?s impossible to work,` he grumbled. `We are up from early morning till late night. We are scolded by passengers, the police and other authorities. At the end of the day, the bus owner shouts at us for not earning enough income. It?s a terrible life.`
Wijeratne dismissed these complaints. `Between 25 to 30 per cent of our daily income is stolen by the drivers and conductors,`` he claimed. `They never give us the full income.`