Govt. ready to face private bus strike

by Don Asoka Wijewardena


The government says it is ready to face the private bus strike scheduled for July 26.

Transport Minister Kuamara Welgama yesterday told The Island that he was ready to face any strike and necessary arrangements and the CTB and railway operation would be stepped up to cater to the commuting public.

Minister Welgama said as far as he knew the planned strike had something to do with a tussle between the Lanka Private Bus Operators’ Association (LPBOA) and the Western Province Transport Minister Upali Kodikara. "I am not aware of any increase in service charges imposed on private bus owners," he said.

The LPBOA has unanimously decided to launch a strike in the Western Province, commencing July 26 midnight, until the Western Province Road Passenger Transport Authority (WPRPTA) and the National Transport Commission (NTC) withdraw the recently increased service charges on the private bus industry.

The LPBOA has 6,500 buses together with a 13,000 strong crew in the Western Province and the private bus operations would be crippled by the strike, LPBOA President Gamunu Wijeratne told a media conference at the Women’s Centre in Narahenpita yesterday.

He said that the NTC and WPRPTA had become a law unto themselves because they ignored the Supreme Court’s orders. They had increased service charge for the issuance of route permits by Rs. 500 and the annual bus permit fee had been increased from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 5,000.

Wijeratne said that the strike would continue until the NTC and WPRPTA budged.

The WPRPTA had been able to earn Rs. 100 million annually, but its administration left much to be desired, Wijeratne said. The bus owners had to give Rs. 4 million to time-keepers on daily basis because there was no system put in place by the WPRPTA. He said he knew that money collected by time-keepers went into the hands of some high officials that could be the reason why the WPRPTA had ignored implementing a timetable system. Had a proper timetable schedule been in place, the bus crew would not have to pay the time-keepers.

The LPBOA chief added that the LPBOA had written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa seeking his intervention because the private bus services in the Western Province would be crippled and office workers and school children would have to suffer because no private bus would operate after midnight of July 26.

The LPBOA had, he said, decided to strike not to antagonise the government but to register its strong protest against the unreasonable increases in the services charges by the NTC and WPRPTA.

Wijeratne said that police had no authority to change bus halts, but several bus halts had been changed and the bus crew fined for stopping at the original locations. The Supreme Court had given orders that without noticing the WPRPTA, the police should not change bus halts but the order had been flouted.

The LPBOA, Wijeratne said, wanted the NTC and WPRPTA to clearly state why they had decided to increase the service charges all of a sudden. The LPBOA had also decided to stop working with the WPRPTA due to the latter’s unfair administrative procedures, he said.

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