Ruchira Rumesh Hemamal, 24, from Kiribathgoda was on his way for his first job interview in Borella on Friday. He had spent nearly four hours waiting for a bus. “I left at 7.30 in the morning to go for the interview but when I reached Kiribathgoda to take a bus I was told that only [...]


‘Tormented’ commuters tell Govt. to stand firm against strikers

Chaos as 19,000 private buses stay off roads

The usually bustling Pettah Central bus stand was like a ghost town

Ruchira Rumesh Hemamal, 24, from Kiribathgoda was on his way for his first job interview in Borella on Friday. He had spent nearly four hours waiting for a bus.

“I left at 7.30 in the morning to go for the interview but when I reached Kiribathgoda to take a bus I was told that only state-run buses were operating,” he said.

“I waited more than four hours to get a bus to Borella, Now I am not sure about the interview and will probably get rejected as I am late,” he said sadly.

Ruchira was one among tens of thousands who were late for work, missed their appointments, forced to cancel their schedule work or just stay back at home because of the strike of private bus drivers backed by a section of three-wheeler drivers and heavy vehicle drivers over the Government’s action to sharply increase traffic fines to stem the rising toll of road accidents.

Normalcy in the public and private sector was crippled on Friday and tens of thousands spent hours to find transport as some 19,000 private buses stayed off the roads. Despite this, there was support from the public for the increased fines as many said they would bring about safer roads.

There were acts of intimidation by some three-wheeler drivers against bus drivers who were operating services. As many as 28 attacks on state-run buses were reported on Friday (see box story).

Public service administrative officials said that they put contingency plans into operation and gave concessions to employees to minimise inconvenience and provide services. The private sector too offered transport and food for employees in order to maintain their regular services.

The strike was called for by private bus associations, some three-wheeler associations and heavy vehicle driver associations over a government decision to impose a minimum traffic fine of Rs 25,000.

Despite the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) operating at full strength commuters found it difficult to find transport and were delayed for hours.

Trinco: Protest against CTB buses plying the roads

The Department of Registration of Persons, where hundreds gather daily for services, found it difficult to process its work but completed its workload, the Commissioner-General of the Department, Sarath Kumara said.

All officials had been instructed to report for work even if delayed and to complete a targeted amount of work, while same-day service officials were asked to work late into the evening.

“We completed creating the GCE Ordinary Level students’ identity cards, which are awaiting distribution in schools,” Mr. Kumara said. “Parents and children came to us even on Friday so we carried out special same-day services that day as well,” he said yesterday.

The department provided transport for all same-day services officials.

The acting Government Printer, Ms Gangani Liyange, said almost all the necessary employees came to work and jobs were completed without delay. Some workers were allowed to take short leave while others agreed to work the regular schedule.

“If government officials have good managing skills, state services would not fail during a strike. The Government Press would only stop if our workers strike – otherwise we will proceed,” she said.

An official at the Water Board said the strike did not affect operations. “We did not take action against the staff members who got late and gave them an opportunity have early leave to get to their homes,” he said. Officials needed for key functions are given quarters nearby so they could be called in case of need, he said.

Most commuters were seen spending hours at roads trying to find space in packed state-run buses.

Eric Fonseka, a navy officer, who was on his way to the Maharagama Cancer Hospital to pay a visit on his mother, said he had stood at the roadside for an hour until an SLTB bus turned up.

G.D.W. Weerakoon, a state sector employee, said the bus strike was harsh on the public but the government should stay firm on its decision to sharply increase traffic fines.

“The striking bus operators are threatening the government by using the commuters as a shield. They are tormenting us,” he said, saying the government should defeat the private bus owners by putting on more state buses.

Mr Weerakoon said the new fines system was needed to regulate vehicles and minimise traffic accidents.

Mr Namal Aravinda, a 73-year-old resident of Trincomalee who came to Colombo to get housing documentation completed, said had been waiting at the bus stop near Fort Railway Station from 6am. SLTB buses had stopped but conductirs did not allow him and others there to board saying their bags were too large and would prevent other commuters from getting into the bus.

Amila Jayamal a fruit seller at the Fort private bus stand, who did not have any customers on Fridaybecause of the strike, nevertheless said he agreed with the imposition of almost all the increased traffic fines.

He said the country’s leaders should be strong and proceed with their decision.

The President of the Lanka Private Bus Owners Associations’ Trade Union Alliance, Stanley Fernando said that the strike would continue islandwide with all private bus, school van, container and lorry associations participating until the government called for negotiations.

National Joint Trishaw Drivers and Workers Association leader K.D. Alwis said his members had held a token strike against the new fines and had been assured, after presenting a petition to the Presidential Secretariat, that President Maithripala Sirisena would look into their matter within a week.“We demand that the President postpone the new fines system until next year and fix a reasonable fine that everyone can pay. We don’t want fines of Rs. 2,500 or 25,000,” he said.

Drivers brave danger to do their duty

W.M.G. Tillekeratne

Daring drivers of loaded state buses braved their way through a chaotic day to reach their destinations in the teeth of attacks by supporters of the private bus associations’ striking against increased penalties for traffic violations.

At least 26 state buses were attacked, Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) Chairman Ramal Siriwardena said. He asked police to provide security for buses to protect drivers and commuters.

Buses were attacked at Kataragama, Tangalle, Mirissawatta and Polonnaruwa, SLTB Traffic Manager Sarath Walgampaya said.

A bus driver who faced three attacks on his bus described his ordeal. W.M.G. Tillekeratne, who operates from Kalmunai, said his bus was one of the new SLTB buses and in good condition, which was why it was targeted.

The first attack took place early morning on Friday at Warakapola when he was driving towards Colombo. Stones were thrown at the bus, causing damage near the fuel tank on the side.

“They ignored the fact that I was carrying people. They ignored public safety and carried out the attacks,” Mr. Tillekeratne said.

Next, the front of the bus was attacked, close to the Radawadunna depot, and the front signal light was damaged.

The final attack was carried out in the Yakkala area.

“A double cab came at me and flashed its headlights, trying to blind me. They threw a huge stone at the windscreen. The glass was shattered. I gripped the steering wheel hard to keep the bus steady but the vehicle hit a lamp post. I then started speeding towards Colombo,” he said.

“The full damage to the bus could cost Rs 50,000 to repair. Unfortunately, those who were involved in the attack were playing with my life and the commuters’ lives. They are willing to sacrifice people’s lives in order to have their demands met”, he said.

A bus that was stoned

Almost empty road in front of Fort station

Kegalle: Commuters wait in vain

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