A bus ride to nowhere
Saturday 25th January 2020
The bus fare increase announced by the Fiji Competition and Consumer Commission (FCCC) on Thursday is like a bus ride to nowhere, said National Federation Party President Pio Tikoduadua.
Mr Tikoduadua said the overwhelming majority of bus passengers who basically are weekly wage earners and already reeling from the extremely high cost of living, are well within their rights to be angry after the increment despite it being 7 cents per stage.
“Their wages have remained stagnant”.
“On the other hand bus operators say it is less than they need to stay in business”.
“Fiji has this problem now because, for more than 10 years, the Government has managed the economy for political reasons, not economic reasons. It has covered up the economic truth about public transport and pretended everything is fine”.
“The Fiji First Government got Fiji into this mess. The only way out now is to provide direct financial support to bus operators through the e-ticketing system. But the next problem, as we all know, is that the Government has no money”.
“The Government boasts about how the economy has grown. But the incomes of the poorest people – the people who use buses – has not grown. The minimum wage remains below the poverty level and the government refuses to increase it. The agricultural economy is smaller, not bigger, so farmers and rural people are poorer”.
“So for 10 years the Government has held down bus fares for political reasons, to keep the people’s votes. But bus operators’ costs have continued to increase. So it is the bus operators, not the Government, who have been forced to pay for the Government bus fare freeze”.
Finally, as bus operators are driven into bankruptcy and their services stop, the Government has been forced to act. It has increased bus fares by 10%. But in the last 10 years, bus operators’ costs have increased by 100%”.
“So what will happen now?”
“Bus operators will use the extra cash to pay off their debts. But they will still not invest in new or better buses, because they still cannot afford to. There will still be bus breakdowns; and bus services will continue to fail. So bus operators’ problems are not solved. Passengers will continue to suffer”.
“And because many bus passengers’ incomes have not increased, they will find the increases hard to bear”.
What can be done? The first step is to understand exactly mess that we are in. We cannot solve the economic problems unless we understand them. Ten years of Government covering up means that there is no economic information.
“If the Government cannot increase the incomes of the poorest people, it will have to subsidise bus transport. It has imposed the e-ticketing system. So now it must use the information from that system to find out which bus routes make money and which bus routes need support through Government subsidies. Government financial support for public transport is common in other countries”.
“In the long term, of course, what is needed is to increase the incomes of bus passengers. But the “Bainimarama Boom” has failed to do this for 10 years. So what chance is there of that?”