Anil Bachoo is not exactly known for being proactive. Or swift for that matter. So, for the one time that he’s decided to open up some routes to competition, which will hopefully result in a better and safer service for commuters, we cannot fault him much. At least he has read and digested all the grievances recorded by the zanimos (beasts: a term he used to describe journalists) of this country about the service the National Transport Corporation (NTC) has been subjecting the population to.
The decision to put all the archaic buses out to pasture and invite other companies in did not come a minute too soon. The country is still licking its wounds over the loss of lives of our compatriots, the near-misses of buses burning in the middle of a journey and the number of casualties caused by irresponsible drivers and substandard vehicles. But the commuters did not get to enjoy the fruit of the competition. At the mere mention of it, the bus drivers went on strike, beat up other transport providers, managed to have the decision cancelled before they had a change of heart and went back to work. One of them even started a hunger strike. Their grievances? They fear for their jobs. A totally legitimate concern with which we can only sympathise. We all fear for our jobs. Few people have the job security that allows them to keep their jobs until they retire.
Having said that, at what cost do we really want to keep people in jobs? And, demagogy aside, what is the alternative to the decision taken by Bachoo? Allowing the NTC employees to continue to drive buses unfit for our roads just to keep them employed? Continuing to subject our population to enormous dangers every time they step onto public transport? Increasing the worry of parents who, these days, do not breathe easily until their children come back home from school? Having our pupils, students and elderly continually left stranded by buses because they don’t pay in cash?
Every time there is mention of improving the dismally inadequate transport service offered to the helpless commuters, like introducing the light rail system, the whole sector goes up in arms. So, basically, what this strike – followed by serious acts of violence which I hope will be sanctioned with the severity that they deserve – aims to do is stop any improvement in the transport system if there is the slightest risk of endangering jobs at the NTC. Imagine if that applied to other sectors too. We’d perhaps still be using bulls and carts for tilling the soil and pigeons to carry our messages.
There comes a time when lobbies have to stop dictating policies and a refl ection is engaged about the whole service offered to commuters. A transport company has to be at the people’s service. Currently, people are at the mercy of the transport company. A transport company should be independent of politicians. At the NTC, political nominees, across governments, mess everything up, work for their own interest and encourage lobbies. They also change sides wherever the wind blows without having the decency to fi rst step down. I hope this episode does not inspire the commuters to go on a hunger strike to ask for the one thing they pay for and which they are not getting: to travel safely.
“I HOPE THIS EPISODE DOES NOT INSPIRE THE COMMUTERS TO GO ON A HUNGER STRIKE TO ASK FOR THE ONE THING THEY PAY FOR AND WHICH THEY ARE NOT GETTING: TO TRAVEL SAFELY.”