Long distance bus journeys usually involve making a pit stop for refreshment at an eatery. A video that recently went viral on Facebook exemplifies how this routine has evolved into a side business. The footage is of an argument between the owner of an eatery and bakery in Parakaduwa and a consumer who questioned the price he had to pay for two packets of milk purchased.
The shop owner in question states that it is the price he has always charged and that nobody else has questioned so far. He also says that he is doing so to earn a profit from his sales. According to the consumer, all the food items are sold above marked prices and for every balance of 10 rupees, they offer two toffees. When questioned, the owner of the shop threatened the consumer to return the purchases, if he could not pay the price demanded.
“It is not the 10 rupees that matter, it is the deed, which is unfair,” the consumer states in the video. The incident took place while the consumer was travelling from Embilipitiya to Colombo by bus, which stopped at a store in Parakaduwa.
The video has received 2.8 K comments on FB. This over-pricing is just the tip of the iceberg. Some said that these rackets take place with the full knowledge of the authorities, who receive bribes from shop owners. Some consumers allege that the fleecing is a joint venture between the bus drivers, conductors and certain eateries on long distance bus routes and say that drivers and conductors involved should be taken to task. They are all in agreement that this is a problem faced by most long distance bus passengers. All of them unanimously call for attention of the authorities and demand that relevant measures be taken.
When contacted a person who wished to remain anonymous, who claimed to be a shop assistant of the said eatery, denied the allegations against the establishment and refused to comment saying that a certain TV channel had also cast them in a bad light and they would be taking action against the channel.
According to a former bus driver, who wished to remain anonymous, buses stop at a few select eateries every trip. “For bringing the crowd, the bus driver and the conductor receive payment or perks by way of food on the house or superior quality food. It is from the passengers that this cost is compensated, sometimes by selling the goods for a higher price than the actual price,” he disclosed.
According to him, the prices only differ by a few rupees. He also acknowledged the fact that these eateries are National Transport Commission (NTC) approved.
A bus conductor operating on the Mannar-Colombo route in the semi luxury-category Danushka Madusanka said that their full journey consists of 300 kilometres and takes eight hours to complete. During the day time, they stop twice for refreshments while at night they only stop once. “Generally the bus stops for a break, after four hours and again after about two to three hours at the usual places. So far nobody has complained to us of these shops,” he says. The bus does one round trip per day.
Matara-Colombo route bus driver Ravindra said that they complete 160 kms in four hours and 50 minutes. “We stop for tea at Ambalangoda after travelling for two hours and 30 minutes at the regular place. This is an NTC approved place with clean washrooms and food although sometimes passengers are not satisfied with the food,” he said.
Vavuniya-Colombo via Puttalam route semi-luxury bus driver Rukmal commented that the 246 kilometres journey takes six hours and they stop for tea for about 15 minutes during the journey after four hours of travelling at a location called Vissaibhage in Rajanganaya. Sometimes this is in Udukkulama. At night they stop in Puttalam. “More than food, we pay attention to clean washroom facilities for the passengers when stopping at these places. There aren’t eateries that can support two or three bus assistants. Sometimes there is only one feasible shop in the whole area,” he said.
Kinniya- Colombo semi-luxury bus driver GA Chandana stated that the bus travels 264 kilometres in seven and a half hours. The bus stops for tea after about a four-hour journey in Melsiripura or Galewela. During daytime it’s usually in Galewela and at night at Alawwa.
“These places have good washroom facilities and food. Passengers tend to partake in shorteats rather than heavy meals such as rice and curry at these breaks,” he said.
He further commented that it would be difficult to charge unfair prices from passengers since people are well informed about the prices nowadays. “Maybe these shops charge about five or ten rupees extra. Passengers have not complained to us. If they do, we wouldn’t stop at that place again,” he claimed.
Officials at the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) commented that social media platforms are being monitored by them with regard to reports of fleecing. “We do monitor the social media sites and visit the shops shown in some of the videos. However, by the time we go there the offense has been committed and it is too late. Our officers check on the vendors and shopkeepers,” an official of the CAA said.
The CAA had visited several outlets that were alleged to have swindled customers. In addition, the official added that the CAA is looking at strengthening its online presence, to work with the public and assist them.
Pic by Eshan Dasanayaka