Private bus mudalalis are getting a dose of their own medicine. Their golayas (bus crews) are threatening to strike unless their grievances are redressed. They want job security guaranteed among other things. As at present, a spokesman for the bus employees has said, they could be dismissed without notice. They are planning a token strike and unless bus owners respond positively, they will resort to a continuous work stoppage, he has warned.
We thought the bus crews were over and above everyone else, going by the way they ride roughshod over the commuting public. One who boards a private coach must be prepared for a great deal of humiliation and insult from conductors who seem to derive some sadistic pleasure by harassing commuters. Is it that exploited and ill-treated by their bosses, they are canalising their aggression at the expense of the helpless public?
They are demanding job security while denying the road users right to life. Neither pedestrians nor small vehicle drivers are safe because of the bus Mafia. They are a law unto themselves. They want even the police to stand by the roadside and watch them race, shoving others off the road. Hardly a day passes without an accident involving a private bus. Even after last year`s disaster in Alawwa, where over fifty passengers were killed, when a private coach tried to beat a moving train at a level crossing, a private bus was caught trying to wriggle through the barriers at the same spot. Their callous disregard for human life is such that in the aftermath of the Alawwa tragedy, the head of their mudalalis association called them thirisannu (animals).
There are, no doubt, good private bus drivers and conductors but they are surely in the minority. And they, we believe, have no fear of losing their jobs. Who will want to get rid of a disciplined driver and a courteous conductor, who are an asset to any bus operator? All others who are twisting their bosses` arms would have been thrown out of job a long time ago, had they worked in any other country.
There are reports of some drivers smoking cannabis or even heroin while on duty. One must not ply, it is said, faster than one`s guardian angel can fly. But most private bus drivers overtake their guardian angels within minutes of taking off. We have drivers flying and angels plying. No person in his proper senses would make such suicidal haste. Still, there are no random checks to nab bus drivers who are drunk or drugged or both.
They may complain of pecuniary difficulties but they won`t tell us how they line their pockets at the expense of their bosses. A new conductor is not considered worth his salt unless he wears a kaha kaella (gold chain) within the first week of taking up the job. They liken embezzlement to `bathing`: The owner, they say, sinks a well (invests), the driver draws water (works hard) and the conductor bathes (enjoys himself). Perhaps, some fare hikes could be avoided if the sordid operations of the bus crews are eliminated.
The bus owners are in the grip of a Frankenstein`s monster. The problem with the battle between the creator and the creature in not the damage they are going to suffer but the difficulties that the people will have to face as a result. However, at any cost, the bus Mafia must be prevented from rising above the law. They are demanding that they be allowed to continue to wreak havoc on roads without the police taking any action. If that is to be granted, the government had better scrap the Highway Code. It is high time they were told where to get off.
The people have suffered long enough at the hands of the bus mudalalis and their golayas. They need to be delivered from their clutches. Developing the CTB is the way out. It is heartening that of late the CTB fleet has been augmented with brand new buses. That vital institution needs to be managed better with less government interference. If this is done and the police are given a free hand to enforce the law, the bus Mafia will fall in line in no time.
The harried public deserve a better deal.