Call to scrap semi-luxury bus service | Sunday Observer

Call to scrap semi-luxury bus service

Passengers have been calling on governments to scrap the semi luxury bus system for many years. Many complain that semi-luxury bus operators were fleecing commuters, charging higher fares for no added comfort or amenities compared to regular long distance buses.

Passenger Transport Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera announced early last week that the government was mulling over cancelling the semi luxury service. The proposal to wind up the service is based on a survey on 10,000 bus passengers by the National Transport Commission (NTC). “A majority had said the bus service must be cancelled,” a release from the Ministry said. Private bus operators have also agreed to the move.

According to Lanka Private Bus Operators’ Association (LPBOA) Chairman Gemunu Wijeratne, a bus service labelled ‘Semi Luxury’ is not found anywhere else in the world.

While Semi Luxury buses identified by their blue and white route indicators, according to NTC regulations must have facilities for commuters, such as fans, comfortable seats and automatic electric doors. However, the nearly 500 semi-luxury buses are a far cry from this. They are often over crowded despite regulations banning standing commuters, the seats in sets of three and two are cramped with little leg space. The constantly blaring radio or televisions sets adds to the discomfort of the passengers. As pointed out by passengers, the only amenity which sets them apart from the normal bus service appears to be curtained windows. This is offered at a cost of more than double the fare of a normal bus ticket.

“For example, the fair total cost for a round trip of a semi-luxury bus to Badulla and back to Colombo would be Rs. 35,000” he said, adding that, however, currently the earnings of a Badulla - Colombo semi-luxury bus for one round trip is Rs. 53,000. “But these are from those seated, but they also take on more passengers who are left to stand paying the same fares,” he noted. According to Wijeratne, through additional passengers, the same bus operator would earn nearly Rs. 70,000 from one trip. “This is a bus mafia, and they are fleecing people,” he said.

All Ceylon Private Bus Operators Union General Secretary Anjana Priyanjith admitted that the buses do not have the mandatory amenities and facilities. Though the Ministry is yet to discuss the move with the bus operators and their representatives, Priyanjith says he is concerned about the proposal. “If these buses are taken out from running, it may be unfair on both the passengers and bus operators,” he said.

Wijeratne said the more feasible solution to the issue is converting the semi-luxury fleet in to luxury buses and improve the services provided to the people. However, adding 500 buses to the luxury bus services would create an excess in the industry, Priyanjith said that neither can they be included in the already overcrowded regular bus services. “A fair solution must be arrived at as these people have obtained these route permits at great cost,” he said.