Sri Lanka’s public transport was paralyzed on Wednesday as buses ran out of diesel, officials said as the country’s currency crisis worsened without dollars to import fuel.
The Private Bus Owners’ Association said it was only able to operate about a quarter of its fleet of 20,000 vehicles, while drivers said they waited in line for seven hours to refuel fuel.
“I couldn’t run the bus for two days because there was no diesel,” said 51-year-old bus driver Sarath.
“I’ve been in the diesel queue for seven and a half hours.”
Many commuters were seen using their own motorbikes and small cars on Wednesday after bus operators warned of significantly reduced timetables.
One of Sri Lanka’s biggest fuel suppliers, Lanka IOC, hiked prices by 12% on Saturday, while state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) said it had also asked the government to l allow it to raise its prices.
CCP sources said Wednesday they only had supplies for four more days.
“We also reduced the diesel problem at gas stations and asked pumps to try to ration supplies,” one said.
Taxi driver Thushara, 36, said he waited in line for six hours to get petrol for his three-wheeler.
“Why can’t (President) Gotabaya (Rajapaksa) consider the suffering of the people?” Thushara told AFP as he came out on top.
“Can’t he understand suffering? Go out and see. Why do you let people suffer like this?
– Long power outages –
The transport shutdown came as seven-and-a-half-hour blackouts also came into effect, the longest scheduled power rationing in more than a quarter of a century.
The Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL) said the cuts were caused due to the shortage of foreign currency to import fuel for electricity generators.
Hydroelectric reservoirs are also dwindling due to the current dry season.
Under a new directive, all state institutions were also ordered on Tuesday to turn off their air conditioners in the afternoon to save energy.
Sri Lanka’s tourism sector, a major foreign exchange earner, collapsed following the Covid-19 pandemic, and the government imposed a broad import ban in March 2020 to save foreign exchange.
The country is now in the grip of an economic crisis, with widespread shortages including food, medicine, car parts and cement, and supermarkets forced to ration staple foods including rice, sugar and milk in powder.
Official data showed the country’s foreign exchange reserves were at a low of $2.07 billion at the end of January, down 25% from the previous month and $7.5 billion in November 2019 when the President Rajapaksa took power.
Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila called the oil shortage “the worst economic crisis since independence” from Britain in 1948.
Shortages pushed food inflation to 25% in January with headline inflation at 16.8%.