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Political Comments On Bus Fare Distract From Real Issues: Association

Political Comments On Bus Fare Distract From Real Issues: Association
Sat Dewan (right) uses his e-Transport card to pay for his bus fare on September 28, 2017 as bus driver Rajesh Kumar looks on. Photo: Ronald Kumar
August 11
10:00 2018

The Fiji Bus Operators Association calls on the Fiji Labour Party to stop politicising its request for a review of bus fares and making selective comments without knowing the facts.

FLP refers to the last fare increase in 2009 and the reaction back then from certain sectors, claiming the increase was heavily loaded in favour of the bus operators.

Nisar Ali Shah, the acting President of the Fiji Bus Operators Association said: “That was nine years ago. Almost a decade has passed and not only has fuel price increased, all other costs associated with running bus companies. These include wages, spare parts, new buses and costs related to eTicketing.

“Even then, the 2009 Orion report by independent consultants appointed by the Land Transport Authority acknowledged that bus fares in Fiji were comparatively low compared to countries similar to Fiji’s socio-economic standards.”

In late 2017, consultants for the Asian Development Bank wrote in a newspaper article that the first step to addressing the challenges the bus industry in Fiji faces is to recognise that while the industry is privately run it “provides an essential service that sustains economic growth by giving people a cheap way to travel for business.”

This was reinforced in June this year by a World Bank article about a study on Fiji’s bus industry, which also acknowledged that without government support the industry would not be commercially viable.

“The comments by the FLP only distract from the central issue: bus operators are struggling to sustain increases in the cost of doing business on a decade-old fare structure, while being obliged to provide subsidised fares to a huge proportion of the population and at the same time expected to improve bus fleets and services,” says Mr Shah.

“The current first stage fare is 68 cents. What can one reasonably buy with 68 cents today? Not even a loaf of bread. The first stage fare equates to about 11 cents a kilometre,” says Mr Shah.

“FLP expresses its concern that bus fares are a major cost for the commuting public because of the high cost of living.

“However, the FLP fails to recognise that the bus industry is the only industry in Fiji that is required by the Government to finance and bear the cost of a social responsibility that is rightfully something which should be borne by the Government.

“No other industry – transportation or otherwise – is burdened with this cost and bus operators have borne it for years without assistance to cushion them.

“For the past 10 years, the bus industry has provided 50 per cent discount for school children and, until just this month, this also included half fares for senior citizens and free travel for people with disabilities.

“Based on recent e-ticketing data, on average the bus industry provides about $30 million a year in subsidies for the travelling public. This does not include the cost of travel for people with disabilities.

“However, there is no acknowledgement of this in the frenzied comments by critics against the bus industry’s request for a fare rise.

“If Mr Chaudhry thinks he knows the bus industry better and that a fare rise is not warranted even after 10 years, we invite him to try his hand at running one of our companies for just a short while and then come back with his suggestions.

“The majority of bus operators have been in the business for generations and have the industry and the travelling public at heart. This is illustrated by its willingness to absorb costs over the past 10 years. However, passion alone cannot keep our industry sustainable as costs rise all around us and we must agree on a way forward that is fair to the operators and takes into account the daily realities of the commuting public,” says Mr Shah.

“With electronic ticketing now in place, there is a perception that bus operators have it easy. This is not true at all. Bus operators still work very hard and long hours.

“Because of the sale of disposable cards on buses, bus operators and their staff must check and balance these sales.

“A small part of operators’ work includes finding replacement drivers, arranging timetables, ensuring early morning and afternoon runs are on schedule, waiting for drivers in the evenings and ensuring garages are in order before they can go home.

“So we strongly reject any throw-away lines such as those being made in recent days.”

 

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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