The Fiji Bus Operators Association (FBOA) is calling on election candidates not to turn issues the bus industry is facing into a political battleground.
FBOA President Richard Lal says statements about the bus industry were made without fully understanding the important changes that have taken place in the industry in the past decade.
Lal’s call follows comments by several political parties against the bus industry’s request for a fare rise after almost a decade at the same level.
In the past six months alone, fuel price has increased by 45 cents a litre while the bus industry continues to absorb many of the costs of doing business.
“Bus operators are unable to adjust fares whenever costs increase because we are heavily regulated. Other businesses can immediately pass on any rise in costs to their consumers,” says Richard Lal.
The bus industry has been acknowledged by economists and both local and international experts as an important backbone to Fiji’s economic success. They highlight the value to the traveling public of the bus industry because of the generally low fares compared to other countries at a similar socioeconomic level.
The bus industry is unique in that it consists of a collection of private businesses that are subjected to strict regulation and who provide an important service every day for the majority of the traveling public.
“The comments by politicians only distract from the main issue: bus operators are struggling to sustain increases in the costs of doing business on a decade-old fare structure, while being expected to improve bus fleets and services, and while fairly compensating drivers and support staff because of a shortage of industry specialists.
“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 kilometer,” says Lal.
The bus industry has not made the request for a fare rise for the sake of it. The requests comes as a call to keep the bus industry alive.
“The majority of bus operators have been in the business for generations and have the industry and the traveling 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 Lal.