Run-Down Red Buses: SLTB’s Ageing Population
Crowded buses carrying more people are a common sight in this country. While on one hand there are the passengers, squashed together both seated and standing, sometimes hanging off the footboard, there are also the bus conductors themselves, some of them obviously old and run down – and yet they do the rounds, day after day, catering to hundreds of thousands of passengers.
The Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) has the smaller share of the public bus service, with SLTB buses accounting for around 27% of the total, although the SLTB ought to have a 40% share and private buses 60%, according to Vice Chairman, SLTB, L. A. Wimalaratne.
He said that there are roughly 4,800 SLTB buses on the roads at any given time. SLTB actually owns around 5,250 buses, out of which 2,200 are between one and six years old, while the others are between six to twenty years old.
Wimalaratne said that the buses had passed all in-house tests, but some did occasionally run into technical issues.
Ideally, he said, all these buses ought to cover a total of 900,000 km a day, but around 3,000 buses are too old and not in a condition to achieve this target.
Despite this, he said, a large number of people still preferred the SLTB buses. “Going by what people say, there is discipline in the SLTB’s service.
The buses run according to time schedules, whereas private buses wait until there is enough of a crowd, before they move the bus”. He also said that the SLTB’s services were preferred to private buses in certain rural areas, such as Embilipitiya.
Need More Buses
Meanwhile, General Secretary of the All Ceylon Transport Workers’ Union, Sepala Liyanage, was also of the opinion that a large number of SLTB buses are not in the best of conditions.
“A lot of the buses we have are very old. The conditions of the private buses are definitely better,” he said.
He also claimed that the number of SLTB buses on the roads is far below the requiredamount.
“As per the time table, we should have 7,267 buses running on a daily basis, but we actually have only 4,800 buses. The other buses are under repair, or in need of spare parts,” said Liyanage.
He also said that in order for the SLTB buses to work the bus routes with the private buses in a proper manner, there ought to be a fifty/fifty share in the bus service, which isn’t the case, as private buses account for approximately 22,800 of the total buses.
“For every five private buses, there is one SLTB bus. It shouldn’t be like this,” he said.
Liyanage also agreed that, for the over five million bus commuters daily, there was a serious shortage of buses. He said that ideally, people should be able to sit while travelling on a bus, but in reality many people travelled standing. “Sometimes if there are fifty seats, there are around ninety people on the bus. We need twice the number of buses we have. Altogether, there are about 30,000 buses running. I think we need at least 50,000 for people to travel comfortably,” he said.
Transport Minister, Kumara Welgama, said for long distance journeys, the SLTB would have to lease more buses.
“We are getting 500 buses from Ashok Leyland on a lease. They have supplied 300 buses right now, with 200 more to come. It’s an agreement between Ashok Leyland and SLTB, they supply the buses, we earn and pay. After four and a half years, the bus belongs to us,” said Welgama.
He said that they were also calling for a tender for around 200 small buses for rural roads.
SLTB Vice Chairman, Wimalaratne, meanwhile said that the Treasury has promised 120 new double-door buses, out of which 54 have already been received.
Despite the large numbers of old buses, the SLTB’s recent introduction of luxury buses, in collaboration with the Micro company, may help turn around the state enterprise’s present image.
“The luxury buses are presently doing six routes on a trial basis. We are collecting necessary data to see if it will be viable for the SLTB. At present, there has been a lot of public interest towards this luxury bus service,” said Wimalaratne.
SLTB Overstaffed By 6,000
By Maryam Azwer
There are around 6,000 excess employees at the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB), says Vice Chairman, L. A. Wimalaratne.
Most of these employees belong to the mechanical division, he said, adding that “they can’t be given specific jobs because they are not knowledgeable enough.”
Minister of Transport, Kumara Welgama, however, said that it was not the mechanical staff, but other staff that are in excess.
“For each bus, we have about ten employees. That is too much. The maximum [should be] six, not more than that,” he said.
“There is an excess of workers in the SLTB, and we pay salaries to them, but the Treasury helps us,” he said. He added that from this month, the Treasury has increased the SLTB’s allocation to Rs. 562 million, for the payment of salaries and such expenses.
Welgama said that bus depots had also been subsidised, with Rs. 10,100 being paid every month, for each employee, while the balance is earned by the depots.
He added that this excess of employees had resulted “because of various governments. They have employed in excess, under various ministers. You can’t blame the present government. It is all the governments which were in power,” he said.
When asked what could be done about this, Minister Welgama said, “There is nothing to do. We have to live with it, until they go on pension.”