The Agonising Wait For Petrol

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Sri Lanka has been facing a severe shortage of essentials during the past few weeks and the short supply of petrol has been one of the major causes that have affected the whole country due to crippling of the transportation sector directly. Meanwhile, either directly or indirectly the petrol shortage has affected the efficiency of the whole country in every sector. What is witnessed countrywide is long queues where fuel sheds are situated.

When Ceylon Today spoke to the taxi drivers, who are daily wage earners , where their income solely relies on the availability of petrol we found out that many of them line up in queues as early as 6 a.m. and on most occasions they get to pump fuel after 6 p.m. Taxi drivers claim  they face great difficulties having to pay monthly lease rentals and utility bills which they were able to manage when they have been working all the days of the month but now because of the petrol shortage they are unable to have their vehicles up and running  they could only work since one half of the month. Obviously it is quite so because every other day they have to spend almost a whole day in queues to pump petrol.  This situation has made their life highly miserable being unable to make ends meet.

21-year-old Hariharan who was in the queue with his whole family: Mother and two sisters noted that they have been waiting in the queue since 12 p.m. When Ceylon Today spoke to one of his sisters, she said they came to check whether they can find gas somewhere to cook the next meal for the family of four.

“They did not give us any clear message; we have been standing in this queue from 8 a.m. My sisters came to check whether there is gas but they have closed the ‘Gas Shop’. So we continued to stay inside our three wheeler chewing betel leaves for hours while in the queue. Just now we went to have our lunch,” noted Hariharan, by 4. p.m. while talking to Ceylon Today.

He further claimed, “Though I fill the tank today it would not be a productive day since by the time I get my turn to pump fuel it would be after dusk and therefore I am left with a slim chance of getting hires for the day.

“I did not take any bookings for hires for the last two weeks because of the scarcity of fuel. If this situation continues I will have no choice but to keep the three wheeler aside and look for another job,” he added.

Shelton, and a taxi driver who has been waiting in the diesel queue since 6 a.m. said that the previous day he stayed for 12-hours in Mahabage but could not get fuel. He further said their livelihood is in a danger as there are no fuel supplies anywhere.

Ranjan , 36-years experienced taxi driver said he has never seen such a crisis in his lifetime, even during the 30-years of Eelam war.

“Despite the 30-years of civil war we had all the essentials to function as a normal community; there was no shortage of any fuel then. The Government lies to the public that there is no issue in supplying fuel but in petrol sheds nothing can be found, and when we get to the sheds all we can see is long queues running into several kilometres.  During all these hours that I’ve been waiting, two diesel-browser trucks arrived but no petrol- bowsers,” he added.

He further noted that that during the 1994-2005 Government a litre of petrol was Rs.13.50.

“We were able to earn a living and lead a comfortable life, where we were able to manage everything without any problem while only doing this job, as a taxi driver but now we can’t even pay for the essentials from the income that we make, even though we juggle around with two jobs like a taxi driver, while delivering goods too. Because the income that we make is only enough to eat and pay for the petrol to go on hire for the next day. In this situation we will be totally helpless if the government decides to keep increasing fuel prices,” he said.

Responding to the government’s decision to limit the supply of fuel to Rs. 2000, Nawfer, a taxi driver in Colombo said that they are in a huge crisis as that amount of fuel is hardly enough for their job.

“The adjustments in taxi fare should be made immediately, since we are unable to cover the basic mount from the hires with limited fuel for Rs.2000. We can only travel 150-200 metres even after spending a whole day in the fuel queue,” he added. He further said that they will have to give up their jobs in future if this crisis continues.

Saman who has joined the Flower road Shed Petrol queue by 11 a.m. in the morning noted that he hasn’t had any meal for the whole day, even when we spoke to him by 4:30 p.m. in the evening.

 He who has been in this job for 10-years lamented that the taxi drivers cannot find their daily income with these restrictions because they have no time to do the job after being in long queues for hours.

“People are waiting in these queues even without taking food and no water to drink. We are starving here on the road. We cannot afford to make ‘lease payments’ since, the time that we are supposed to spend to earn for such repayment; we get stuck at these queues. We all have families with children. Now we cannot feed them. How can we give them a better life?” he spoke his heart out emotionally.

Rukman noted that he joined the fuel queue by 8:30 a.m. He is with the hope of getting fuel as early as possible. He said, “Even taxi is a mode of transportation; we are doing a service to people. There are 1.2 million people who work as taxi drivers. Therefore, we hope that the government will give us some relief. We could have arbitrarily increased the taxi fare but we did not, because we know that it is a difficult period for all. One of my friends told me that a petrol bowser has arrived to the shed near the Majestic City but I did not leave from the queue I was in.  What if l reach there late and fail to get fuel from that petrol station? “

A person who does not want to disclose his identity said that the government should not be blamed for everything. “Many people who are working in both public and private sectors are waiting in queues. We use motorbikes in our day-to-day life for various activities, but now our whole life has collapsed with this crisis. I am very sad for my country.

Aruna who has been in the queue since morning noted that the public life has become a great struggle.

“Meanwhile, we are aware that there is no lack of fuel for vehicles owned by many private companies, public authorities and certain bigwigs,” he said.

Nazly, a person who had been working in the tourism industry for many years said with the country’s crisis there is no way that the tourism industry and the individuals who rely on it have a future or way to earn a living out of it.

“We all had done a big mistake when we casted our votes.  We have never voted for the right person. That is why we are suffering. If you are talking about the responsibility, systems change and so on, the political hierarchy is so complicated and unpredictable. You play a cunning game, cheat and win. With such power given to an individual’s hands, how can we not expect them not to misuse it?” he questioned showing anger.

Nazly claimed that, the fuel crisis was something created by the power given to the politicians.

“Our authorities concerned do not like to buy fuel from certain countries like Russia and Iran. There are many countries ready to supply fuel. The authorities try to buy fuel from the countries where they could earn a commission. Not from the countries that we can get it for a reasonable price or the countries that we can get it easily. We should not buy fuel from one country; we must go for other options.,” he alleged.

Fuel shortage in the country has prompted fuel rationing. A person riding a motorcycle is allowed to pump a maximum of four litres, those with three-wheeled motorbikes five litres and cars are restricted to 19.5 litres. Majority of the public who spend hours in queues are wasting at least more than six hours waiting to pump petrol limited to only Rs.2000, which are 100-150 litres. For the taxis and ‘delivery’ vehicles, the said amount of petrol can only last for a day and they are hence they are compelled to stand in these queues again the next day.

This situation has crippled many industries such as the Bakery and confectionery businesses including ‘Choon paan’. The efficiency of taxi and delivery services efficiency was cut down by 50%. In the midst of the economic crisis the petrol shortage has been pushing the country from frying pan to fire.

(Pix by Manjula Dayawansa and Kelum Chamara)

Taxi services struggling

Ceylon Today also spoke to a couple of transportation and taxi service providers who have been affected due to the prevailing fuel shortage.

A popular cab service, which has been providing taxi and cab services since 2012, claimed that their company cannot provide an adequate service to meet the demand. Most of the vehicles which are contracted to the company are in fuel queues.

Speaking with Ceylon Today a representative of the cab service noted that they receive calls through the Call Centre but they cannot confirm the reservations or times with the customers since they don’t actually know an exact time when the drivers will arrive after pumping fuel.

“The hires we receive have been halved.  Drivers reporting to work have also been highly irregular. From the fare we retain a percentage and pay the driver or the owner of the vehicle the rest. Fuel shortage has adversely affected our services.  While the drivers are in queues we lose many bookings for hires. Our drivers wait in very long queues for hours to pump fuel just like anyone else would these days. Because the drivers have hires during the day time.

On most occasion they are queuing up at nights and waiting till morning until they get their fuel  supply. They also have social media groups including WhatsApp groups to obtain instant notification regarding fuel stations that supply fuel.

“It places the customers as well as the transport agency in jeopardy. We have signed contracts with some companies to provide transportation so when something inconvenient like this happens it is very hard to maintain a business,” he added.

By Sahan Tennekoon, Aloka Kasturiarachchi and Nabiya Vaffoor