The All Island Private Bus Operators yesterday threatened not to run their buses next week after declaring that they were ‘cheated’ by the Transport Minister who, they claimed, had reneged on his promise to effect a fare hike this month.
But, the two ministers in charge of private buses and the State run buses have vowed they would not bow to pressure tactics, saying they are prepared with alternative schemes to maintain the public transport services.
|Commuters vying for a foothold.
Pix by Indika Handuwala
The ministers’ tough stand, however, were in sharp contrast to the government’s prompt action yesterday to persuade the Western Province private bus operators to call off their sudden strike. The government promised that it would review the new policy of issuing route permits – the cause of yesterday’s strike.
Commenting on next week’s strike, Bus Operators’ Association president Gemunu Wijeratne told the Sunday Times that following discussions with the Ministry last month, the Ministry Secretary Victor Samaraweera had given a written pledge to consider increasing bus fares. “They have failed to keep to their promises and we will be resorting to legal action against the Secretary as well,” he said.
Mr. Wijeratne said they had requested the Government to revise the formula under which bus fares could be revised by two per cent whenever the diesel price was increased by Rs. 5 a litre.
Under the present system they could increase the price of bus fares only if a litre of diesel was increased by Rs. 8, but in the latest price revision the price was increased by Rs. 8 only, thereby preventing the bus operators from making use of the formula.
“This is a strategy of the Government to prevent the private bus operators from increasing fares”, he said.
However, Mr. Wijeratne said he believed increasing bus fares was not the only solution to maintain the private bus industry, as the Government should provide other relief to help the industry which provides a valuable service to the public.
“We have proposed to the Government to provide certain facilities for those who have leased buses. If some relief is given to them regarding the payments of their monthly instalments it would be helpful,” he said.
He said that there were more than 25,000 private buses with 6,320 of them operating in the Western Province.
He said the profits the bus owners were earning were diminishing fast and the losses more losses while there were other issues regarding the quality of the diesel resulting in buses running a lesser mileage on a litre of diesel compared to the past.
Mr. Wijeratne said early this week he found a wreath placed in front of his home and lodged a complaint with the Mirihana Police over the matter. “I have also received death threats over the telephone,” he said.
C.B.Ratnayake, the minister in charge of private buses, told the Sunday Times that he would not allow the strike to be a success.
“We have considered the request by the bus operators and are not in a position to give into their demands which will eventually make life hard for the commuters,” he said. “It is an unreasonable demand, we cannot agree to consider their demands,” he added.