Bus Drivers Get Hot Over Lane Switch

Aug 28, 2009
Bus Drivers in the Pacific Island country of Samoa are fuming over the decision to switch all traffic to driving on the left side of the road.  Some drivers say they would rather set fire to their buses than make the switch, according to the Brisbane Times.

The historic and highly controversial road rule change will take place on September 7th. It is designed to align Samoa with the driving regulations in nearby Australia and New Zealand and encourage relatives living abroad to export vehicles home.

A group of 24 local bus operators are refusing to pay the charge of $50,000 USD per bus to convert the vehicles to right-hand drive and move the passenger door to the other side of the bus, claiming that the cost of doing so would put them out of business. The Samoan government has offered a six-month waiving of license fees, but that compensation only comes to $1,180.

Bus driver Nanai Tawan from Mapuitiga Transport said the price of conversion was so excessive that he would set his buses on fire before driving on the left: “In protest I would rather bring my buses to parliament and burn them there for parliament to see what they are doing to us.”

Villagers angry over the road changes have pulled up the new “keep left” road signs, repainted directional arrows on the roads to reflect the old orientation, and have even stated that they will not allow cars to drive through their villages if the vehicles are driving on the left side of the road.  A group known as People Against Switching Sides (PASS) has filed a suit against the government.

Samoan Prime Minister Tullaepa Sailele Malielegaoi stands firmly behind the switch despite criticism that he made the decision without consulting the community or first determining the feasibility of the switch.  This month he further angered the opposition, saying that it would only take a person three minutes to learn how to drive on the left side of the road.

Photo courtesy of Felipe Skroski under the Creative Commons License.