The bus fare revision | Daily News

The bus fare revision

Fuel prices fluctuate wildly in the world market from time to time. Right now, prices hover in the US$ 42-50 per barrel range, depending on the grade. This is a huge reduction from the US$ 80-100 witnessed a few months ago. It is only right that the Government should pass on that benefit to the consumer, already burdened by the high cost of living. Fuel prices in Sri Lanka have now come down by almost Rs.30 per litre across all varieties – even the 51-day interim, if illegal, Government reduced fuel prices twice and one of the first actions of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe after being re-appointed was reducing fuel prices by Rs.10.

A curious phenomenon perhaps witnessed only in this country is that whenever fuel prices go up even by Rs.5, bus fares tend to be increased by 10-15 percent. Three wheeler fares, school van fares and even the prices of bakery goods go up by an equal margin. However, there is great reluctance by these self-same parties to lower the prices when the fuel prices decrease by a considerable margin, as has happened now.

During the 51-day regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa, private bus fares were reduced by just 2 percent. This was not implemented practically at all, as a Rs.100 fare would have been reduced by just Rs.2. And we know very well that private bus conductors, if not SLTB conductors, conveniently forget the “balance” in such instances. The new fares were practically non-existent.

Even when fuel prices have been reduced by almost Rs.30 in just a few months, private bus fares have now been reduced by only 4 percent. The four percent reduction is not commensurate with the fuel price reduction at all. We commend the efforts of new Transport Minister Arjuna Ranatunga in this direction, but it seems that the private bus organisations have won again, much to the detriment of passengers.

There is no reason why at least the minimum fare cannot be restored to Rs.10, which is convenient for both passengers and crew. Most passengers tend to give Rs.15 or even Rs.20 to the conductor as Rs.2 coins are not readily available all the time, but it is very rarely that a conductor will give the balance of Rs.3 or 8 as the case may be. Passe Dennam (I will give later) is the common refrain, but most commuters don’t bother to ask again, knowing the propensity of private bus conductors to verbally abuse passengers. No wonder that private bus organisations do not want to decrease the minimum fare. Moreover, private buses never display the revised fares inside the buses, rendering the passengers helpless as they cannot point out the correct fares.

That is just one part of the story. Private bus drivers are well known for dangerous driving that puts the lives of passenger at risk. In fact, recklessly driven private buses are responsible for many fatal accidents. They are also known to pack passengers like sardines, violate all road rules, never issue tickets and wear unkempt clothes. Above all, many private buses run on kerosene, which is much cheaper than diesel. Thus even an increase of diesel prices does not affect them. Police try to crack down buses running on kerosene, but they cannot detect every one of them.

The next time that private bus organisations demand a fare increase for whatever reason, the Government should stick to its guns and maintain the stance that it cannot be granted unless there is a substantial improvement in these aspects. Many experts have suggested the formation of professionally run private bus consortiums as in Singapore, which will be able to offer a much better level of service.

Three-wheeler associations have also seemingly agreed to reduce the fare of the first kilometre by Rs. 10 - from Rs.60 to Rs. 50. From midnight on Wednesday, charges for the first kilometre would be Rs.50. But as far as we remember this is exactly what they said when the 51-day “government” also reduced fuel prices. This is indeed laughable, because the two leading ride sharing companies in the country charged just Rs.30-35 per kilometres for tuk-tuks even when fuel prices were at their peak. Besides, most three wheeler drivers say their meter is “broken” and fleece the customers. The authorities should install a hotline to entertain complaints regarding three wheelers. The display of driver/owner information on the back of seat must also be made mandatory. The time has indeed come to phase out three wheelers by 2030 or so – they don’t gel with our image as an upcoming financial and hub of Asia. We need a proper car based taxi service, as found in most countries. School vans too have reduced prices by just three percent, which again is not enough. Parents deserve a bigger break, given that van owners usually charge half the fee even if the schools close for holidays on say, the 5th or 6th of a given month. We need a comprehensive national policy on bus, three wheeler and school van fares so that consumers get more benefits.


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