Fuel is essential for the people and the failure to provide an uninterrupted fuel supply was one main reason for the collapse of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration. The current Government won the people’s hearts by providing an uninterrupted supply of fuel. Yet, problems remain as two main “mafias” still harass the public by not passing on the benefit of the fuel price reduction.
The two main mafias that continue to harass the public despite the drastic reduction of fuel prices are the three wheeler mafia and the private bus mafia. State owned CTB buses cannot be called a mafia because they have one owner, the State and usually treat passengers much better than the private bus industry, which does not have one owner or common rules and regulations.
The All Island Three-wheeler Drivers and Owners Association has said they cannot reduce the charges for three-wheel hires in line with the reduction of fuel prices. This Government has carefully considered all facts and figures and did not increase the price of Octane 92 petrol used by three-wheelers. Actually, the Government has reduced the price of Octane 92 petrol.
Last October the Government reduced the price of one litre of Octane 92 Petrol by Rs. 9 (from Rs. 365 to Rs. 356) and again the Government reduced the price from Rs. 356 to Rs. 346 a few days ago. The three-wheeler drivers never decrease their prices for hires along with the price reduction but increase their prices drastically with any price increase. It is the very same with the private buses. They never talk about any price reduction when diesel prices go down but increase their prices stubbornly whenever the price of diesel increases.
Three-wheeler drivers always point out the high cost of parts and services related to three-wheelers. The other main issue is the high cost they need to pay to adjust their fare meters, which is usually done by the same local private companies which produce those meters. There are reports that the private companies which produce these meters charge a high amount to adjust them.
According to the three-wheeler drivers and owners, when the Government reduces or increases the price of fuel several times from time to time, they need to pay a large amount of money for those companies to get their meters adjusted according to the new fuel prices. To avoid this cost, they stick to the same price regardless of the petrol price reduction. This is the harsh reality about the three-wheeler industry.
But this burden on the ordinary people is not there whenever they travel by reputed international level taxi and ride-hailing services which mainly operate in Colombo and its suburbs. Those services change their charge for one kilometer with the change of the fuel prices and therefore the people who use these vehicles do not need to pay any extra money for their hires.
Those reputed ride-hailing and taxi services which operate through Smartphone Apps are available in the Western Province and a few other main cities in the country including at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). They charge substantially less than ordinary three-wheelers for the same distance. Unfortunately, only those with smartphones and the knowledge to operate an App can use those services. Many people do not know that they have to pay up to ten times more than the actual charge for a hire when they travel by an ordinary three-wheeler.
A simple solution to this problem is imposing a maximum price for all private companies which change the price in all three-wheeler meters and handing over the task of inspecting three-wheeler meters to the Police to detect whether any three-wheeler is charging more than the recommended price without getting their meters changed to reflect the latest fuel price. A huge fine should be imposed on all three-wheeler drivers who overcharge passengers.
The other simple solution is making it compulsory for all three-wheelers that transport passengers on hire to issue a receipt for their charge. They should also have a receipt book with them apart from a meter which is fairly useless with the regular fuel price changes.
Some issues in this country are not exposed or highlighted by the main media or social media. But those are the main issues faced by the voiceless people of this country. Once pointed out by at least one media outlet, it is the responsibility of all relevant authorities to address such issues without wasting any time and without passing the ball. After all, those issues can cost millions of votes during an election for any political party or politician.
In any case, new laws should be drawn up to regulate private bus and three-wheeler industries which are now a law unto themselves. Together, private bus and three-wheeler drivers also cause the biggest number of fatal accidents through their reckless driving. No mercy should be granted to such drivers caught flouting road rules or other regulations such as fixed fares. Reforming these two sectors should be considered as an urgent task.