Over the years many opted to travel in three-wheelers as they found it a convenient mode of travelling for a reasonable price as opposed to having to travel squashed in public transportation. However, with fares going beyond what wallets can bear, many think more than twice before hopping into a tuk-tuk.
There were many proposals to regulate the three-wheeler industry under one law throughout the country. However, after years of attempts the Government has showed a green light to the regulation of the three-wheel industry.
On 9 August Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena said, the National Transport Commission (NTC) will be regulating all passenger transport services, including three-wheelers and that this programme would be implemented within a month.
When Ceylon Today inquired about the stance of All Ceylon Three-wheeler Driver’s Association, with regard to the said Cabinet decision, the Chairman of the Association, Lalith Dharmasekara was contented about it and said he along with his Association had taken countless attempts for years to get a regulatory body to the industry.
“Regulation of road passenger and goods transport services is a provincial based responsibility that comes under the 13 Amendment to the Constitution. The NTC has the authority to provide guidelines to the three-wheeler industry in all provinces. They do not have the ‘body’ to do the operations related to three-wheeler industry since it is a provincial-based community. Now the Cabinet has given the permission to the NTC to provide guidelines to the whole industry under one rule other than giving different regulations to every province. They have finally given permission to what we asked for years. We are nothing but happy. We express our gratitude towards Minister Bandula Gunawardane,” Dharmasekara said.
He said, due to the approval, they can finally go out of the provincial boundary and initiate the regulations under one law. He stressed that the three-wheeler industry is completely unregulated.
“We have experienced this in the past couple of weeks during the fuel crisis. There are two types of three-wheeler drivers. One is for hiring and the other uses three-wheelers for personal transportation. However, at the end of the day it should be fair to both the customer and the driver. Therefore, there should be a standard when it comes to the three-wheeler industry. That is why it is very important to regulate the three-wheeler industry in the country under one authority,” Dharmasekara claimed.
Why should there be regulations?
Dharmasekara responded that there are many complaints from the customers, claiming that there are different rates, and some drivers do not have or use meters at all.
“We are requesting to stipulate regulations especially such as displaying a taxi-labelled board with the standard rates of the hire. If the whole industry is asked to fix a taxi meter overnight there can be an issue. Therefore, we request to display visibly the amount of fare a customer has to pay for the first and the second kilometres respectively. We are completely agreed upon regulating the three-wheeler industry nationally, since it is very appropriate,” he explained.
What kind of regulations should there be?
Dharmasekara explained that right side of the three-wheeler should be covered and guarded for safety reasons.
“The maximum number of passengers should be three at any given time. The three-wheeler should be in good condition. The passengers should be ideally insured. A taxi meter should be fixed and be in good working order and be visible enough to the customer. There should also be information with regard to the identity of the driver such as an image of the NIC being displayed to the passengers”, he said.
He added that these rules are already gazetted but they are yet to initiate them. There should be a place such as the NTC, where both the customer and the driver can go to if they have any complaints or inquiries.
“Do not think that what you are used to is right, get used to what is right. Only then the system can be changed, and the good results can be reaped,” he added.
When asked about the steps that would be taken against those who do not obey the rule, Dharmasekara said,
“All these proposals are not bad decisions; they are all for the welfare of the community and the customers. Therefore, if someone is against these regulations, they are not suitable for the transportation community. They should be removed, or they should leave the industry immediately. This is a programme that is related to the welfare of the whole country. It is being legalised and respected nationally. Just because one is not used to being regulated, does not mean that they should disobey the law. Also, when the customers get used to a good transport service, they will naturally reject whoever is not following the rules. It will be a disadvantage for them. Because we humans are naturally designed to choose what is best for us”, he said.
For many years, the main objective has been to create a group of drivers who respect the profession and discipline. These objectives cannot be achieved with a set of notorious community. That is why there should be rules and regulations for everything, he said.
“The notion by the society that most people can easily get a licence, buy a three-wheeler and start to hire is false. I deny it because it is not the correct picture. The three-wheeler industry started in Sri Lanka 40 Years ago. It first came to our country in 1978. Then there was no special licence for three-wheelers. Anyone possessing a heavy vehicle licence could use a three-wheeler. If we look back for the past 10 years as an example, there are students who have not passed the O/L exam and therefore leave school at that point. Also, there are students who had not succeeded in their A/L examinations and stalled higher education. There are data bases from where we can easily obtain relevant statistics. Accordingly, if we compare the students who leave from pursuing education it is reported that there is no progressive information about 50,000 students. Nobody knows what they do or where they are. If we think that all of them came to the three-wheeler community every year, there should be a lot of three-wheelers in Sri Lanka. But there are only 1,182,000 registered three-wheelers in the country till date. So, the concept of the society that school leavers starts to become a three-wheeler driver is false. That is impossible. Not everyone can join a three-wheeler stand”, he explained.
There was a proposal to allow only persons over 35 years to have access to the three-wheeler licence in the past. Dharmasekara also commented on the said proposal.
“The proposal to allow individuals over 35 years to hire three-wheeler was gazetted. However, it was not approved by the Cabinet. The then Cabinet Minister the late Mangala Samaraweera did not approve it”, he said.
Dharmasekara commented that the heavy vehicle licence can be obtained in our country if one is 21 years and to be a driver of the public transportation community (bus) one should be over 23 years.
“If one can be a bus driver of the public transportation sector when they are 23-years, why do one have to wait till they turn 35-years to ride a three-wheeler? On what basis this concept arrived. Anyone could drive a car if they have a licence which they can get if they are over 18. Therefore, why refrain drivers from the right to drive a three-wheeler. The ‘over 35-year’ story is completely inappropriate even though it was gazetted, however, it was not approved. It was declined because it was not practical”, he stressed.
“In 2014 there was a gazette if one was to be engaged in the public transportation sector, they have to obtain a special licence from the RMV commissioner. A ‘two-week’ course was to be followed for a fee of Rs 2,000 to obtain the special licence. Then only, the person is allowed to join the public transport sector. We requested to allow these same rules and regulations to the three-wheeler industry as well. We asked for this for years. Finally, after years of requests we are getting what we asked for”, he added.
Out of all the programmes Sri Lanka had regarding the regulating of transportation there was one concept that was successful but later got stuck in the middle for unidentified reasons?
Ceylon Today inquired about the programme from Dr. S. Kodagoda, former Chairman of National Council for Road Safety.
“We handed over the draft that was needed to regulate the three-wheeler sector to then Minister of transportation Nimal Siripala de Silva in 2018. We needed to improve the services of the three-wheeler industry and there were no hidden agendas behind our proposals. We solely needed to improve the facilities, services and the background of the three-wheeler sector”, he said.
“We chose 50 drivers from multiple three-wheeler associations and trained them. We trained them with general knowledge such as how to communicate with a foreign customer and Basic English skills and how to treat a customer in a correct manner. We also gave them a white shirt and a black trouser as their uniform that they voluntarily chose. We also introduced a system that could monitor the three-wheeler through the Road Safety council. Therefore, if there were any issues, they could contact the council without any inconvenience. This programme included the school transportation too”, he said.
The programme was mostly initiated in Colombo, Ragama, Matara, Kandy and Gampaha, he said. He added that his concept had provided them with various advantages through the programme.
“We wanted to improve the three-wheeler community to a cab service sector. However, the programme was also accepted in the parliament through the Road safety council but unfortunately it did not continue. Till date it is a question as to why a good concept like this did not become successful”, he lamented.
When inquired what he thinks about the three-wheeler community being regulated under NTC he said that if the outcome is fair to both customers and the drivers, he is positive about the new changes.
“I do not mind whether the three-wheeler community is regulated under NTC or Road Safety Council. If the community is regulated in a correct manner, it is advantageous and good for both customers and the drivers. If these concepts were carried out correctly there would not be any inconvenience today. However, it was not so and that is why the whole community is unregulated at the moment”, he said.
BY Aloka Kasturiarachchi