Bus operators threaten action if state refuses ‘to play fair’

By Leon Berenger

Private bus operators have threatened to launch trade union action if the government does not give them concessions, in the wake of the recent fuel price hike.

Gemunu Wijeratne, president of the Private Bus Operators’ Association, told the Sunday Times that the government was providing a fuel subsidy for state-run buses, and should in all fairness consider a sizeable subsidy for the private bus service.

“The government gives out something like Rs. 5,000 a day in compensation for each passenger bus run by the Sri Lanka Transport Board, so the SLTB can continue to charge the old fares, while we are being ignored,” he said.

The private bus operator has to bear much higher overheads than the SLTB. “We have to pay taxes, registration and parking fees, as well as fines and bribes. The list goes on. This is not fair. Something must be done, and fast,” Mr. Wijeratne said.

Representatives of the Private Bus Operators’ Association will meet members of the Sri Lanka Transport Board and district organisers tomorrow to decide on a course of action. Some form of trade union action can be expected if the government failed to respond favourably, Mr. Wijeratne said.

The private bus operators’ main demand is that the state sell them fuel at Rs. 76 a litre for at least six months. Diesel went up from Rs. 76 to Rs. 84 on October 29. The government has prohibited private bus operators from raising bus fares, saying it would be a burden on the public.

The government says it will press more SLTB buses and trains into service if private bus operators resorted to trade union action.

CEB and Laugfs gas appeal to Treasury

The Consumer Affairs Authority will decide this week whether to agree to a request from Laugfs Gas to raise the company’s charges for fuel. In a related development, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka will brief the Treasury tomorrow on the financial position of the Ceylon Electricity Board.

The the CEB has notified the Public Utilities Commission on its financial position. Commission chairman Dr. Jayatissa de Costa told the Sunday Times that electricity charges would not go up should the Treasury decide to set off the CEB’s financial losses.

Dr. de Costa said the commission would consult the public before deciding on an increase in electricity charges.

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