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Bus fare hikes? Slowly, slowly!

18th May 2012
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Editorial Cartoon

Passenger service vehicle owners and various other transport industry stakeholders plan to meet in Dar es Salaam next week to discuss a bus fare rise proposal.

The meeting, called by the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (Sumatra), is aimed at getting comments and views from the stakeholders before the agency rules on the proposal.

Should Sumatra and the stakeholders endorse the proposal, commuters in urban areas would have to cough up an extra 150/- per trip – meaning the fare would now be anything between 450/- and 650/- one way.
The major excuse transporters are fronting, just as has always been the case, is “rises in running costs”. But how realistic is this?

The transporters have often sought to make indefensibly huge profits by capitalising on apparent weaknesses within Sumatra and lack of unity among commuters. This has been the order of the day for years on end but with hardly any improvement in services.

Since commuter transport was liberalised some 25 years ago, during Ali Hassan Mwinyi presidency, the commuter bus services have registered little improvement even as bus owners raked in huge profits practically on a daily basis.

There are numerous cases of passengers finding themselves crammed in jalopies while also literally at the mercy of bus operators with the least concern for customer care.

Sometimes, passengers are routinely but needlessly harassed by shabbily dressed conductors and self-appointed turn-boys, with some going for short-cuts, overcharging and generally flouting road traffic rules and regulations with virtual impunity.

Sumatra is mandated to oversee the transport sector and therefore stop these violations but, for all practical purposes, it has not much of a success in playing its role.
Thus, going by the poor standard of the services offered, the fare increase proposal is completely untenable.

At any rate, we doubt if anybody would suggestions that fares ought to be increased owing to rises in operational costs mainly due to fuel price hikes as commonly claimed by transporting firms.

When bus fare last rose, in 2009, the global oil price stood at USD140 per barrel. As of Monday this week, the corresponding figure had plummeted to USD94.5.

If the price obtaining in Dar es Salaam and elsewhere in Tanzania has not similarly gone down, it is the likes of our very own Energy and Water Utilities Regulatory Agency (Ewura) that should give the explanation. Surely, the global oil market is not to blame.

And assuming it is government agencies that have fallen short of ensuring that local oil prices are tame, sensible and realistic enough, it should not be innocent passengers that bear the brunt of the inaction.

All these are very serious shortcomings in the transport and energy industries which need to be addressed before the relevant authorities bow to transporters’ demands for fare hikes.

It is worth remembering that fares charged ought to be in consonance with the actual standard of the services offered. There should be no room for haphazard or arbitrary decisions that please one side at the expense of the other – in this particular case meaning shortchanging members of the commuting public.

Sumatra and other transport stakeholders must ensure quality service before granting requests for fare hikes.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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