The Fiji Bus Operators Association says the continued delay in addressing its request for a fare review is starving bus operators, is damaging for the industry and would affect commuters in the long run.
“Bus operators have been more than reasonable all this while and it is about time the government and regulators act fairly towards operators and acknowledge what is already plain to see.
“The regulators and agencies responsible are essentially starving the bus industry by not urgently addressing its application for a fare review.
“The longer bus operators are deprived of a sustainable fare, the greater the potential for bus commuters to be affected in the future because commercial realities are eventually catching up with the politics of keeping bus fares unchanged for more than a decade.
Mr Latchan noted that the LTA was the only agency empowered by law to review fares but since the Bus Fare Review Committee chairman has told the media the committee has completed its work, he joined Classic Buses in calling for the findings to be made public immediately.
At present, passengers only pay 68 cents for the first stage (six kilometres), less than the price of a loaf of bread.
For the industry to survive, the FBOA has proposed an interim measure of increasing fares of only the first four stages, which is where a majority of companies’ operational costs are incurred.
Stage 1 fare is proposed to be set at $1, Stage 2 is proposed to rise to $1.30, Stage 3 to be set at $1.70 and Stage 4 to be set at $2. All other stages would remain unchanged until a final determination on fares are made by the authorities.
The Fiji Bus Operators Association (FBOA) has also labelled the move by the Land Transport Authority to call for expressions of interest for the routes of one of its struggling members as unreasonable and arbitrary – and demands its withdrawal in a recent press release.
The LTA published an advertisement on Saturday, 13 April 2019, calling for submissions from companies interested in operating certain routes in the Western Division. These routes are allocated to Dominion Transport, which has in recent weeks faced operational difficulties, including industrial action by its drivers.
At the time, it was unable to operate services because the company was unable to meet the demands of its drivers.
“The factors that brought a halt to bus services are well-known and predictable: bus companies are unable to continue functioning on a 10-year-old fare structure with ever-rising operational costs,” said Rohit Latchan, the FBOA’s General Secretary.
“The LTA should act reasonably, understand the situation and not to worsen the environment for already besieged operators,” Mr Latchan said. “The authority should work with the bus industry to make it sustainable and find a way forward.
“Instead of following due process in dealing with Dominion Transport, the LTA has taken the step of immediately calling for expressions of interest.
“In cases where the LTA believes an operator has not fulfilled its obligations, the first step would be to issue the company a warning.
“If this fails, the operator can be called to ‘show cause’ before the LTA board as to why it is unable to operate its assigned routes.
“Only when these avenues are exhausted and the LTA thinks it appropriate, should it call for expressions of interest.
“Bus operators do not want to intentionally withdraw services that would affect the many thousands of people who are heavily dependent on us daily,” Mr Latchan said.
“However, we are appealing to the public to realise that this will be unavoidable for some companies when operating realities catch up with the regulatory barriers that have held fares at the same levels for a decade.”