Private bus operators seem to believe that simply because they operate more buses than the State-owned CTB, they are a privileged lot entitled to legal immunity. They have successfully defeated all past attempts to discipline them. It took over three decades for some of them to be put in uniform! They are again on the warpath demanding that the National Transport Commission (NTC) be stripped of its powers to mete out punishment. Their trade union action has affected the long distance routes.
The Transport Ministry is to be commended for having taken the bus Mafia by the horns. It must have warmed the cockles of many a heart to hear NTC Chairman Prof. Amal Kumarage read the riot act to the strikers on Wednesday. He requested the public to bear with the NTC in spite of their hardships until the striking bus fraternity was made to fall in line. He deserves public plaudits and assistance to achieve that noble objective.
Under no circumstances, must the NTC yield to pressure from the hoity-toity obdurate strikers. True, commuters are undergoing untold hardships but the bus Mafiosi hell bent on abusing and exploiting the commuting public must be tamed at any cost. Else, they will get the wrong signal that they can have their way all the time. Let their snouts be rubbed on the highway hard enough! Should the NTC and the Transport Ministry concede defeat, then there would be no end to commuters` suffering.
The warring asphalt cowboys must be made to realise that the rule of law and the public interest must prevail no matter what. They may own and/or operate the largest fleet but public transport remains a preserve of the State. The tail, they must be told, cannot wag the dog! If the bus crews and their bosses cannot obey the laws and regulations governing public transport, they are free to exit so that others willing to operate within the confines of the law could move in.
Private bus crews are the biggest threat to other road users. They race, swerve, overtake and stop at will in blatant violation of the law, as if the public roads were their grandmothers` estate. Even the police don`t dare confront them for fear of strikes. Their dreadful conduct is such that President of the Lanka Private Bus Owners` Association (LPBOA) Gemunu Wijeratne once chose to call them thirisannu (beasts) sans any consideration for fellow citizens. So, it is high time those beasts were chained or caged. In fact, some of them deserve to be behind bars.
It is surprising yet heartening that the LPBOA, which is notorious for launching strikes at the drop of a hat, has dissociated itself from the on-going bus strike and stressed that without discipline, the future of any trade/profession is bleak. This is the correct attitude.
Unless the striking bus crews give up their protest and resume operations without holding commuters to ransom any longer, the government must take stern action against them. If push comes to shove, their route permits must be cancelled and new permits issued so that others could enter the industry.
Most of all, the NTC must be given more powers to tackle the private bus Mafiosi and wrestle them to the ground. Let it be made known to them in no uncertain terms that they cannot rise above the law.