Commuters at the mercy of bus mafia

TN News

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I took a Can Tho - Ca Mau bus, being told that it would drop passengers at Tra Men bus depot in Soc Trang on its way.

We were advised that the bus was going to leave "˜in a minute', but as expected, it didn't really leave until about 60 minutes later. We also expected and accepted that this may be the last bus to Soc Trang, so they would need to gather as many passengers as possible (they were aiming for thirty something passengers on a seventeen-seat mini bus, five per three seats). Frustrated, we all waited, stinking from built up sweat by the sixteen or so passengers, bones almost crushed against each others' as the bus drivers continued to gather and pack more passengers, swearing if any passenger dared to protest.

Soon after the bus left the depot, one of the passengers asked to be dropped off at Tra Men bus depot, as a reminder. The "˜lo xe' (the foul mouthed fare and passenger collector) instantly declared that the bus could only drop us at the official drop off point, not the depot, as they would be fined, and their license would be suspended (At this point I asked myself "˜what license? If you could get away with such dirty business, the Can Tho bus depot clearly seems to let you get away with it?').

Dissatisfied, the passenger protested, claiming that she was promised that she was to be dropped off at the depot. The "˜lo xe' vehemently denied she ever promised such thing, as if it was the absolute truth. Both passenger and "˜lo xe' believed they were right, so neither one gave in. So, while the bus was in full speed, because they were running late (takes no brain to work out why we were late), loud arguments erupted, first with just loud voices, then quickly using severe foul language, the worst they could dig out, cursing each other and their families.

Other commuters passed by looking curiously at our bus, as it sped and rocked from the violence inside. Meanwhile, the other passengers tried to calm this angry passenger down, but she would not give in. Why should she, she was in the right, and good on her for sticking to her guns. I was coward, keeping quiet, feeling helpless and growing angrier at the bus operator's cowboy behavior.

I knew the bus operators were blatantly lying and bullying the passengers into following their orders. But seeing how aggressive they were right from the beginning, there is no telling what they are capable of when they are angered.

The bus driver stopped the bus, walked around, and together with the "˜lo xe' attempted to pull the complaining passenger out of the bus, in the middle of nowhere, where she could possibly be left stranded over night, with her grandchild. The passenger would not relent, refusing to leave her seat (if you could call it a seat), a violent fight almost erupted, if not for other passengers intervening. After the bus continued, the argument still brewed and soon became a loud argument again between the disgruntled passenger and the "˜lo xe'.

The bus stopped again, I thought this time the passenger was going to get a severe beating, but the bus driver and the "˜lo xe' decided to repay the passenger her fare and order her to get off the bus; of course, not without cursing her and her family.

The bus continued on with the journey.

What saddened and angered me more was that other passengers were teaming up with the driver and "˜lo xe', condemning the passenger for being unreasonable, causing disruption and delays. I knew my fate with this unforgettable journey the moment I stepped onto this minibus: there was no company name, there was no clear time of departure, the bus team loitering around the bus, hungrily grabbing commuters by the arm, not calling out to them, but physically forcing them to take their bus. The signs were all there, and I still decided to board this bus as I was desperate to get home that night to Soc Trang.

So I accepted it, but this kind of violence, between the driver and vulnerable passengers, this disregard for passengers' lives and safety is unacceptable in any kind of civilized society.

I thought seriously about reporting the matter to the police, but considering how blasé the Can Tho bus officials were toward illegal bus operators like these, I doubt anything would be done anyway. But it is alarming to think of what could happen if these gangster-type operations are allowed to continue. Who will the passengers turn to for help when they are left stranded in the middle of nowhere (as with many cases that I have heard of), or when they face violence and aggression by the operators?

I send this in the hope that your paper can help vulnerable passengers seek some sort of justice when forced to endure such behavior. In other countries, passengers, as with customers, are gods. Here, apparently, passengers are often at the mercy of the drivers. I also send this hoping to warn other unsuspecting tourists and expats to stay away from such kinds of buses, to avoid undesirable and possibly life threatening mishaps. 

Kylie McDonald

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