A Perspective of Sri Lankan Bus Conductors

You judged already! Didn't you? If you thought that this blog post is a negative, complaining rant about the cussed behaviour of Sri Lankan bus conductors, you will find me irritating (or wise) at the end of this post.

Sri Lankan bus conductors are often criticized for treating passengers as goods and not returning change, among many other 'bad' traits. Is it always true? Are we being judgy? Maybe we should put ourselves in the slippers of a bus conductor to step into the world of bus conducting.

For me, being a bus conductor in the over-utilized transport sector is worse than a nightmare. Imagine spending most of the day in often-moving-slow-due-to-traffic? Being a tropical country, we get more than enough sun which peaks at the peak hours which is also the busiest hours for the bus conductors.

Related image
An over-crowded Sri Lankan bus

Let's look at the job description of a bus conductor:
  1. Loading passengers to the bus by calling out the destinations
  2. Conducting the passengers through the bus (as people often stay near the entrance because it's convenient for them to get down)
  3. Signalling the driver when passengers are nearing their destinations
  4. Collecting fees and vending tickets (the conductors are now required to mention the pick-up location, destination and the fee in the ticket through the electronic ticket vendor)
  5. If the conductor does not have change to return, they need to memorize the passenger and the change due and return money when possible
  6. Helping the driver to steer the bus through the traffic
Although not a responsibility, the passengers expect their direction in doing the following:
  1. Make sure that pregnant women, clergy and elderly get seats in the bus.
  2. Making sure that elderly, pregnant women get off the bus safely.
  3. Sometimes they courteously announce the passengers to beware of pit-pockets/thieves.
  4. Break off fights often between drunkards or when people step on someone else's foot knowingly or unknowingly
  5. Save women from touchy-feely pervs and kicking them off the buses
Night time is no different. With the scarcity of buses, buses often run jam-packed. I had the joyful opportunity to take the 120 (Colombo to Horana, nearly 50 KM ride that lasts for 2.5 hours) bus from Pettah Central Bus station a few years ago. The bus was the last bus for the day and getting into the bus itself was a nightmare. Being typical Sri Lankans, there was no queue formed to get into the bus. The moment the bus arrived and stopped, about 100 people rushed through the doors of the bus with the aim of securing a seat. This sight reminds me of the Black Friday shopping frenzy.

For others, stepping into the bus itself is a big win. In the process, greed for comfort gets the best of chivalry. Women are pushed away and some of them end up hurt, mostly their egos sometimes physically too. There is a minority of people who'd patiently witness the riot hoping they would get a change in the next bus, if there is a one. This happens every night at Pettah. In a jam-packed bus, there is nothing much a bus conductor can do. They are almost immovable, often pushed through by the current of passengers in the bus. The job of collecting fees and vending tickets become secondary. Their primary goal is to ensure the safety of the passengers, making sure that the bus does not move while disembarking (more like squeezing/popping out) passengers. Also, late night buses are full of drama. They are often full of drunkards, and weirdos and grumpy burned-out employees over-working at off hours.

Under these circumstances, it is no wonder why the bus conductors, drivers and passengers are grumpy and often be inconsiderate to each other.

Bus conductors or drivers do not own the buses they run. At the end of the day, they empty their earnings to the pockets of the bus owners. Bus owners expect them to meet the set demands. I need to do more research (perhaps a documentary) about the how bus conductors and drivers are compensated. The research should reveal many interesting facts.

There is also a scarcity of change; where have they all gone, stuck in piggy banks? I find coins valuable because it allows me to tender the exact fee to the bus conductor. This is one way we can make the lives of bus conductors easier. I think it's good karma and if we all do it will make the bus conductors happy and less grumpy.
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