Buses in Sri Lanka are fast, furious and frequent. They are also incredibly cheap and go everywhere – seemingly wherever you are you are not far away from a bus stop.
Anyone who has been to Sri Lanka and travelled by road will know that, in contrast perhaps to what you are used to “at home”, the buses are by far the fastest vehicles on the tarmac. The speed hierarchy appears to be, in descending order: buses – lorries – tuk-tuks – private cars – scooters and motorcycles – bicycles.
The reason is this. The buses are privately operated under licence from the government and the earnings of each individual crew – driver and conductor – are directly related to the fares that they collect. This results in the buses literally racing each other to get to the next stop for the next batch of passengers. So not only are they overtaking all other road users, they are also overtaking each other. On blind bends. On the brows of hills. On blind bends on the brows of hills.
My theory is that the reason all other vehicles drive so cautiously is because every few minutes you will be confronted with a bus overtaking another bus on completely the wrong side of the road at 60miles per hour. They stop for nothing and no-one except passengers. I have learned always to look sideways when I am travelling. Never straight ahead. It is too scary.
Tomorrow there is a nationwide bus strike. It has been called by the private operators to protest the Sri Lankan Government increasing ten-fold the fines for speeding and overtaking on the left (we drive on the left here) along with a number of other traffic offences. Clearly the bus operators are acutely aware that their buses flout traffic law with impunity. “Only in Sri Lanka” as I find myself saying with increasing frequency.
The bus drivers are being joined by the members of the “Three Wheeler Union” which means there will be no tuk-tuks either. And the Railways Workers have also decided to join in the fun but their protest is over moves to abolish their pension scheme and plans to change the Railways Department in to an Authority; a cause I have somewhat more sympathy for. Regardless, none of us will be going anywhere tomorrow it seems.