So, what we have been saying in these columns all these years about the private bus Mafia has been proved right. Some private bus drivers and conductors are hooked on drugs and alcohol. It is official! No less a person than the plain-spoken President of the Sri Lanka Private Bus Owners Association (SLPBOA) Gemunu Wijeratne was quoted by this newspaper yesterday as having said that about one third of the bus crews in the Western Province were addicted to liquor, cannabis etc. He says a survey commissioned by his organisation has revealed this startling fact he calls upon the police to deal with the errant bus workers who have, he says, brought the private bus industry into disrepute.
We never miss an opportunity to flay the SLPBOA chief and his outfit left, right and centre as they are mainly responsible for the sorry state of affairs in the public transport sector. The private bus service has, in our book, failed to live up to its name. It has become a law unto itself as well as a curse to the public. But, on the question of drug and alcohol addicts behind the wheel, Wijeratne et al should be praised for going public with the findings of their survey without trying to sweep them under the carpet. He has, in fact, been very critical of the undisciplined bus crews who are wreaking havoc on roads. It may be recalled that when a private bus collided with a moving train in Alawwa leaving over 50 passengers dead, as it tried to wriggle through a closed level crossing barrier in 2005, an exasperated Wijeratne chose to call bus drivers thirisannu or beasts sans any concern for human life. He is always very generous in heaping abuse on bus crews!
However, we do not need the SLPBOA chief to tell us that some bus drivers are drug or alcohol addicts. The dastardly manner in which they unleash hell on roads amply demonstrates that fact. They look like a horde of zombies on a mission to wipe out the human race! They do not give two hoots about the Highway Code, and flout each and every traffic law with gay abandon, in most cases with impunity. The police look the other way either because their palms are adequately greased regularly or because they are scared of confronting the private bus Mafia for fear of strikes. It is also alleged that some police bigwigs themselves are proud owners of private buses and they bend the law in favour of the private bus fraternity.
The SLPBOA has called upon IGP Mahinda Balasuriya to take steps to conduct surprise checks on bus crews and nab the errant ones. Now that the bus owners have given the green light, there is no reason why the tough talking police chief should hesitate to go the whole hog to bring the drug addicts and dipsomaniacs in the garb of private bus drivers to justice. Let no lame excuses be trotted out!
Similarly, it is imperative that the police closely monitor school vans as well. There have been various allegations against their drivers, ranging from child abuse to reckless driving. That they fleece parents is only too well known. They even extract `van fees` during school vacations! Parents have no alternative but to stand and deliver without uttering a whimper of protest as they cannot take on the powerful school van Mafia. The police must initiate an investigation and find whether there are drug addicts and tipplers among the school van drivers as well. If how their rickety contraptions carrying schoolchildren zip along is anything to go by, they are badly in need of psychiatric care.
Will the IGP get cracking?