ABusiness Times-Research Consultancy Bureau (BT-RCB) poll last week on ‘bus drivers, a menace on the roads’ has revealed some interesting data findings. Overall, there was unanimity that buses, both private and public, are not driven safely on the roads, according to the survey conducted on the street by RCB in Galle and Colombo, and on [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Near unanimity amongst public that buses not driven safely on Sri Lankan roads

BT-RCB Poll: “Are bus drivers a menace on the roads?"

 ABusiness Times-Research Consultancy Bureau (BT-RCB) poll last week on ‘bus drivers, a menace on the roads’ has revealed some interesting data findings.

Overall, there was unanimity that buses, both private and public, are not driven safely on the roads, according to the survey conducted on the street by RCB in Galle and Colombo, and on email by BT. Respondents were asked to answer five questions or statements with – A (Agree), D (Disagree), or N (no comment).

However the figures varied in the RCB poll in terms of the percentages in Colombo and Galle. For instance, to the first statement (question) – buses are driven safely on roads; 68 per cent in Colombo and 44 per cent in Galle ‘disagreed’ with this statement. In the email poll it was an overwhelming 88.8 per cent who ‘disagreed’.

It also meant that in the Galle poll 22 per cent (agreed with the statement) and 34 per cent (no comment) totalling 56 per cent who were either in agreement that ‘buses are driven safely’ or didn’t make any comment. To the second statement that ‘stringent action is being taken against careless bus drivers’, the Galle response was 55 per cent (disagree) and Colombo 62 per cent (disagree) while on email it was 77.7 per cent (disagree).

In all the questions, the email response was predicable: The majority concurred that bus drivers were menace on the roads, no action is being taken (against them) and passengers don’t caution drivers against speeding. This however varied, at times with wide gaps, when it came to the Colombo and Galle in the on-street data.

For example, the response to the statement ‘passengers normally caution bus drivers when they drive carelessly’, 60 per cent from Galle (disagreed) and just 41 per cent from Colombo (disagreed). This meant that a total of 59 per cent (13 per cent agreeing and the majority 46 per cent saying ‘no comment’) in Colombo did not agree or was non-committal. The email response to this question was that 55 per cent ‘disagreed’ with this statement.

While it is not easy to analyse why the data varied between the email poll and the street poll, one factor to note is that most of the email poll respondents would be using less public transport than respondents polled on the streets.

The poll was conducted based on growing concern over reckless driving and rising number of incidents. According to the Police, while 18,774 road accidents were reported for the whole of 2015, in the six months to June 2016 alone more than 19,916 accidents have occurred. Some of these incidents were captured on CCTV and appear on Facebook and other social websites.

The opinion polls carried out cover a cross section of workers and others on the street (by RCB) and a cross section of the middle class with access to emails (by BT). Results of the poll and its five questions (statements) are shown on the graphic.

Speed travel the new lexicon of bus  passengers
RCB: Comments from Galle 

Summary of the views from Galle:

  • Our private bus drivers are the best. They speed without accidents. They are used to our roads.  
  • We need speed travel. The purpose of the highways is for quick travel. People need to attend to their work and speed is necessary factor.  
  • Police fear the bus drivers. If action is taken against drivers, they would go on strike and the police will be blamed. 
  • Bus drivers are either clueless or have no respect for the rules. They stop the bus in the middle of the road. They have no control when driving big buses and often knock pedestrians  
  • Sometimes conductors drive buses even though they don’t have a licence because there is a shortage of experienced drivers.  
  • People, in some ways, encourage speeding as they want to go to their destination fast. They don’t like slow driving.  
  • There is politics even in the bus industry. Police have no control due to this issue.  
  • What is the use of the Private Bus Authority or Commission? They  don’t even  respond to a telephone call. The bus owners have the final say.  
  • Police can be bribed to protect bus owners.  
  • People need to go to the metropolis on time to get to work and speed travel helps them to be punctual. The workforce travels from distant places daily. They look for time management on rail or bus as the case may be.  
  • Buses operate on a timetable. They have to keep to it and those who are slow speed when the destination is close. This causes accidents.  
  • Private bus drivers earn enough by overcrowding and use this ‘extra’ money to pay fines if charged.

138 route bus drivers reckless and dangerous

RCB: Comments from Colombo

While views on the recklessness of bus drivers in Colombo were mixed in the street poll, many of its respondents had a lot of criticism about bus drivers. However they were also critical of pedestrians, not aware of basic road rules (crossing, etc)
Here is a cross-section
of the views:

  • The 138 route is infamous as the driving is careless, rude and dangerous. They don’t follow the lanes.
  • They don’t stop at bus halts.
  • Private buses imported from India have big tyres which helps speed.

Pedestrians are also an issue, very undisciplined and cross everywhere.

  • Long distance buses don’t observe the rules. They even don’t respect pedestrian crossings.
  • The 138 route is the worst. Road rules are observed only when they spot the Police.
  • Drivers don’t even wait for passengers to disembark at bus halts. Once a child was trapped under a bus because the driver took off while the child was getting off.
  • They apply brakes close to the pedestrian crossing confusing everyone.
  • Drivers don’t observe lanes.
Loud music
  • Loud music and TV shows distract the driver. Some play music on the wheel while driving.
  • The law of the jungle prevails on the roads. It is the survival of the fittest. A school girl fell from the bus once while getting in when the vehicle moved. The girl was severely injured. Only the driver was arrested but no compensation was given to the girl.
  • Drivers use cell phones while driving causing accidents. They are freely answering calls while driving, putting passengers at grave risk.
  • Need for an insurance system for public transport passengers. When I once occupied the back seat, the driver braked and I was almost thrown out. Thank God I am alive today to comment in this survey. In my case, the 176 route drivers are very reckless.
  • Racing amongst private bus drivers is a common sight on the 138 route. The journey is fast but at what risk.
  • No obligation to issue tickets while the correct balance is deliberately avoided.
  • Recently a mother and a child were knocked down on the road by a bus. However no action has been taken to give any compensation to the affected party.
  • At Moratuwa some years back a child was run over by a private bus. People burnt the bus in provocation. The family lost a kid but no compensation was given.
  • A similar incident happened in Negombo where two police officers were killed on the road. That was also due to reckless driving.
  • Uniforms should be made compulsory for bus crews for enable easy identification.
  • Passengers are also at fault. They always travel on the foot board and if they slip and fall, it becomes the fault of the bus crew.
  • Bus owners need to compensate the travelling public for deciding to travel in buses and putting up with their blatant disregard to rules. We are subject to all kinds of intimidation by the conductor. It is not so in other countries.

Speed travel

  • We hope that someday we would be able travel in seats and in comfort just like in countries and arrive safely at our destination without worrying about speeding or reckless driving.
  • Police could prevent many accidents if the law is applied equally and fairly.
  • What is the use of the Private Bus Authority if it doesn’t investigate public complaints?
  • Passenger prefers speed travel like in highways.
  • We need good conductors and good drivers who observe driving rules and good driving ethics.

Scary to drive on roads with buses

BT- Comments from emails 

The following is a compilation of comments from the Business Times email poll: 

On safe driving -

  • Their disregard for law and safe driving is a direct consequence of law and order officials – AKA the Police – looking the other way! Stagnant road networks can’t cope with the meteoric rise in number of vehicles. Police are generally helpless, so…they look the other way at least where bus drivers and three wheel drivers are concerned

Drivers have not heard of the word SAFELY.

  • Travelling by bus is very unsafe especially when going out of the city. Recently I witnessed a driver driving recklessly to reach his destination on time.
  • Getting caught by the law? You MUST be joking!!!
  • Reckless drivers who kill people on the road should be banned for LIFE and their licence cancelled for LIFE.
  • Private bus drivers rush like maniacs on the road and once toppled the ‘malu paan’ bicycle man on the side of the road. This happened around 8 am and none of the passengers told the driver to slow down.
  • The police cannot do much because their hands are tied, maybe due to influence or bribes. Corruption is the CURSE of this land.
  • In my case reckless driving gets me home faster from work and university
  • Texting while driving
  • I have experienced on several occasions where the bus driver was sleeping and driving while texting. On one occasion, the driver was on the phone and almost crashed the bus.
  • What about drivers on the phone? What about drivers racing each other…this is only visible to the people not the Police!!
  • I’d rather call them ‘Murderers’. They drive absolutely recklessly even in the presence of the cops. Once I stopped and asked the cops as to why they didn’t charge the bus driver who was changing lanes back and forth in front of their eyes. Their response was that I should go and make an entry. How absurd !!! A poll is one thing. What do we need to do to stop these reckless drivers on the road?

Passengers at the mercy of bus drivers

  • Passengers are passive in Sri Lanka. They hardly speak for their rights or for others’ rights.
  • I don’t travel by bus as I am 65 years old and cannot survive such a ride. Ranil ….please appoint a committee to stop this crazy driving. However if I am to make an educated guess, I think people will not caution the bus driver. They value their life and peace of mind too much, than to be subjected to abuse (from the driver)!!
  • Passengers are at the mercy of  these scoundrels!! If we utter a word we would be ORDERED off the bus. Such is the state of the country.
  • If the police gives an SMS number to the public to make complaints then the public can alert the police of reckless driving. You would then be able to catch more errant drivers
  • Your  poll is raising a very worthwhile and urgent issue. This has to be handled from multiple sources. Fundamentally we have defined this business wrong. Public transport is not a business that can be in the hands of individuals. For them every trip means making profits and there is no economies of scale hence there is this compulsion to make the maximum amount of money by the owners and that drives the behaviour of not keeping to timetables. So it must be made compulsory that buses must be owned by public companies with sufficient capital and ensuring quality service of standards. Secondly in Sri Lanka we train people to DRIVE not create a force of well-trained and disciplined DRIVERS. The whole area of issuing licences must be properly and strictly regulated. For instance we should follow a method similar to that used in Australia where a person has to go through a number of stages to get a qualified driver’s licence.

Without sticking to fines for traffic offences it is important that we make compulsory driver training  “Back to School” classes conducted by the Police to ensure errand drivers are corrected during training. Insist insurance companies to avoid paying claims if the driver had been negligent and bring in regulations to ensure the premiums are set according to the probability of accidents rather than the value of the vehicle.

Bring in a massive public reporting culture using social media so that there will be million eyes watching drivers who are careless. Encourage more and more vehicles to invest in front view cameras and upload errors to a public space and police to follow up and charge. Start rewarding drivers who observe road rules.

Police inactive

  • The main issue is that our Police are NOT active. If they are strict and efficient like in the west, the problem will be greatly reduced.
  • Colombo – The infrastructure in the city is a problem because separate bus lanes, which are useful to avoid accidents, may not be feasible. There is inadequate Police to manage traffic. There is no high or low traffic times today. More CCTV cameras is the need of the hour but is a costly exercise with no money to invest!
  • Use innovation to nab the culprits. Try installing CCTV on structures innovatively designed to carry advertisements. This would cover the cost of the camera and could be recovered within a year or two.
  • Develop an app which could be used by the authorities to track ‘careless drivers’.
  • Why not using drone technology to track careless drivers – this is being done in one of the states in India.
  • Who are these drivers? They come from poor families and have no proper education. As a result they engage in many unwarranted activities such as harassing women, terrorising road users, etc. Thus you should have extended your questions to cover more issues for example like their education status and background.
  • Why restrict the poll only to buses? Three-wheelers and motor bikes are also dangerous, some times more dangerous than buses. Often  bus drivers are compelled to break the rules because of the undisciplined driving of three-wheelers and motor bikes.

All these three categories of drivers are never bothered about road rules including parking rules, pedestrian crossings, traffic lights, lanes, etc.

Are Police aware of the traffic rules in the first place? The only law they know is to hide in a dark place and impose spot fines for minor offences and when there is an accident they advise the two parties to settle the matter.


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