Reading my previous posts, I'm shocked by how long and detailed they were! This time around, however, my posts will focus briefly on one aspect of life in Sri Lanka. For this first post, I want to highlight transportation. The images below depict my primary means of getting around in Kandy- public buses.
What I find most interesting, however, is the system by which bus fare is collected. Every bus has a driver (who sits on the right side and drives on the left side of the road, a relic of British colonial influence) and at least one fare taker. If you get on the bus at the beginning of the route, you might be surprised to find that no one immediately asks for your bus fare. It isn't until a certain location or critical mass is reached that the fare taker inquires as to your final destination and informs you what your fare will be. This is not a strict process with consistent fares. For instance, I have paid 20, 24, and 25 LKR to travel the exact same distance on the Bowalawatta bus. When I pay 25 LKR, I do not get change back, even if the fare is 24 LKR. This is just how the fare takers seem to operate (at least with respect to foreigners). The fare takers keep mental record of every single person who gets on and off the bus, and they regularly squeeze up and down the aisle to collect fares from new passengers. Sometimes the fare taker writes down the transaction in a journal of sorts and tears off a receipt for the passenger. Other times the fare taker is equipped with a wrist-bound digital receipt machine, which prints out the receipt. I would be interested to know about the efficiency of this system. More specifically, I am curious as to whether rendering the fare taker obsolete by installing an automated bus fare machine like those in U.S. buses is more or less economical than maintaining a staff of manual fare takers. Are the wages of the fare takers detracting from the wages of the drivers? What would be the social cost of installing automated bus fare machines, thus resulting in significant job losses? Is the bus fare taker a likely casualty along the road to sustainable development? What are your thoughts? Feel free to share them in the comments section below!