Friday, December 23, 2011

Strike by the Private Bus Owners Association is imminent over route permits

The haphazard and highly politicized distribution of route permits causes enormous friction within the industry. In another example of the manner in which these route permits are distributed, sold, bribed away and auctioned, once again it has caused a problem leading to this action, in a very competitive industry. Not only do these operators have to compete with the state bus service SLTB which as we are told, is about to increase its fleet by leaps, and which is highly subsidized having on average 8 workers on the payroll for each bus that is roadworthy. The distribution on non-market criteria is a cause for dissatisfaction.

Put yourself in the shoes of a private bus operator. You have to face many severe allegations. One of overcrowding, of racing to catch the next customer, of treating the customers like cattle and being rude to them, permitting panhandling in the buses for a fee or a percentage of the takings and if that was not enough they have to bribe the minister to get the permits they want or even challenge the threat of losing the license over a non-existent or manufactured transgression.

Into all this comes the granting of route permits without due consideration to the supply and demand issues as well as the times allotted for the various buses both to provide a smooth service at regular intervals and be fair in the allocations so that a balance of peak and non peak services can be shared around. This is nevertheless a very thorny issue with no clear way of coming out with an acceptable compromise.

The government has masterfully led public opinion to the faults of the PBOA and not of the benefits of these buses. I do believe that 80% of the buses on the road are Private. So its contribution to passenger transport at reasonable cost is huge. Instead of using more SLTB buses to compete, the state should encourage more private buses, without recourse to selling route permits except to auction them under transparent procedures on certain routes that are particularly in demand.

I have advocated for a two tier fare structure on local routes for before 6pm and after so that the night traveler will also be better served, something the private sector at present has not been permitted to do. The state sector buses which are few and far between are asked to fill in the discrepancy in the later hours.

I believe that there is not enough research into optimizing the formula for the benefit of the public. I would like to see timetables using counting data under the auspices of the transport ministry, so that bus passengers are better served. This will hopefully take more people from personal transport into public transport.

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