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Private buses to strike from Monday

  • Cite lack of insurance and unmonitored guidelines

 

By Dinitha Rathnayake

 

Private bus owners have decided to stop route operations on 18 January, alleging that the Government has not provided bus workers a promised insurance scheme and has failed to ensure the adherence of Covid-19 health guidelines applicable for buses.

“We will stop route operations on 18 January if these issues are not resolved,” Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) President Gemunu Wijeratne told The Morning yesterday (11).

He said that the insurance was proposed for bus workers, including drivers and conductors, and also for passengers, where they would be covered in the event they contract Covid-19 while travelling on buses.

He alleged that the authorities are not monitoring the adherence to health guidelines by passengers despite the virulence of Covid-19.

“Our association members, drivers, conductors, and helpers are once again facing financial difficulties, since there is not enough income to cover the vehicle lease or wages. Although we agreed to continue bus operations as an essential service for the public, we cannot agree with the guideline which allows for more than one person to be seated in a bus seat. The second wave of Covid-19 has proven that the virulence of the coronavirus has increased and therefore even people who do not sit in close proximity too can contract the virus,” Wijeratne said.

He noted that they were already running at half the capacity within the Western Province.

“Our entire private bus capacity in the Western Province is around 6,300 buses and now it is being reduced to 2,300. The Government has currently placed us in a very inconvenient position.”

According to Wijeratne, the entire private bus capacity is around 20,000 where 8,000 buses are currently not operating due to the pandemic. Therefore, the estimated total loss is around Rs. 6 billion, he claimed.

However, when contacted by The Morning, State Minister of Vehicle Regulation, Bus Transport Services, Train Compartments, and Motor Car Industry Dilum Amunugama struck a defiant tone.

“If private buses stop operating, we will use Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) buses to ensure the availability of buses for public transport,” he told The Morning.

He added that resorting to a strike is not reasonable as the Government has already resolved many issues faced by private bus owners this year, as they are facing losses due to the decrease in demand brought about by the pandemic.

“Increasing the bus fare without a demand was one solution. Additionally, we facilitated a loan scheme for private bus owners through various financial institutions and banks.”

According to Amunugama, the National Transport Commission and the Provincial Transport Commission had stopped collecting funds from private buses for the daily logbook, although Wijeratne is claiming that this issue has not yet been resolved.