Stiff fines and bus strikes | Sunday Observer

Stiff fines and bus strikes

The Transport Ministry issued a gazette on April 1 imposing heavy fines on motorists for committing a number of traffic offences. The minimum fine for seven offences was increased to Rs. 25,000, while the fines for offences resulting in fatalities or injuries were also increased.

The revision of traffic fines was first proposed in the budget of 2016 though the transport unions are threatening to strike opposing the move. Despite repeated attempts by officials to impose increased fines to reduce the number of traffic accidents, transport unions, especially the country’s private bus unions opposed the move previous occasions. With the threats of continuous strikes, the government was forced to temporarily halt the issuing of the Gazette in September 2017.

However, a year later, the Transport Ministry issued the Gazette this month stating that fines for seven offences, including driving without a licence and drunken driving have been increased to a minimum of Rs. 25 000.

The fines were increased according to the recommendations by a five-member committee appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena after nine months of deliberation. However, the Private Bus Unions are again threatening to strike after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Despite the threats, officials claim that the increased fines will remain unchanged.

All Island Private Bus Union General Secretary Anjana Priyanjith told the Sunday Observer that his union will launch a strike after New Year in protest against the fines.

“We will urge the government to revoke them,” he said, adding that bus operators are not agreeable to imposing a minimum fine of Rs. 25,000 for two offences out of the seven.

“As we have always said due to the poor and narrow road network in urban areas, including Colombo, overtaking from the left is inevitable. Especially, motorcycle riders and three-wheeler drivers will be affected by this,” he said.

“The revised fine for speeding is unfair. It is not easy to keep track of speed limits in areas outside city limits,” he said. The trade unionist also proposed that CCTV cameras should be put in place where policemen are manned to ensure no irregularities.

Ceylon Private Bus Owners Union President Gemunu Wijeratne said, “Though these fines are like those of Europe, the roads are not up to those standards”. According to Wijeratne, the Government should develop road infrastructure if they want to increase traffic fines. “For instance, there is no time table for buses, no bus parking facilities, no signboards in our road system,” he said.

Wijeratne warned of an impending strike. “We did not join the strike launched by some of our counterparts due to New Year,” he said, adding that the unions will be forced to go on strike after the festive season. The Unions have also approached the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and filed a petition against the government’s latest fines.

A number of other unions, including three-wheeler and school van drivers unions have also expressed similar views.

Despite the criticisms, officials are refusing to reverse the move. According to National Road Safety Council Chairman Dr. Sisira Kodagoda, the Government will not reverse any laws.

“Last year, 187 people lost their lives due to accidents caused by private buses,” he said. According to Kodagoda, deaths caused by buses are on the increase. “Many serious accidents were caused due to drunken driving, speeding and overtaking from the left,” he said.

While conceding that accidents cannot be prevented through imposing heavy fines alone, Kodagoda said this is one of the main steps to reduce the number of road accidents.

“We will also look into developing technical aspects, bringing in new legislation and creating awareness,” he said.

“There are over 6.9 million vehicles registered in the country of which private buses make up to 23,000,” he said, questioning if laws should be changed to benefit the minority when it is them who cause most fatal accidents. “Should we stand back and let them take the lives of more people,” Kodagoda asked.

Kodagoda said the Government will do its duty to protect road users and motorists of the country. “The laws, therefore, will not be reversed under any circumstances,” Kodagoda said.