Rough ride

The transport operators kept their vehicles off the roads in Bagmati zone on Sunday to mount pressure on the government to raise the fares. One week ago, the government jacked up the prices of diesel and petrol. It should have immediately adjusted the fares of the means of transport using these fuels. On their part, the transport operators unilaterally raised the fares in the 30-40 per cent range. The Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs (FNNTE) made these increases — 35% for short and medium-haul routes and 30% for long routes; 30% for metered taxis, and 35% for gas-powered vehicles. The FNNTE tried to justify these changes on the grounds of the ‘huge increase in the price of oil’ and the ‘soaring prices of vehicles and their spare parts’. The transporters decided to implement these rates until the government came up with ‘scientific’ fare revisions.

The government requested them to defer their decision ‘for a few days’ to give it time to work out the new rates. But, attempts to enforce the one-sided hikes caused rows with passengers, in several cases, with unhappy results. After each major fuel price hike, there has always happened the charade of transporters taking a unilateral step and, then, of the Department of Transport Management coming up with an agreed formula. The question arises why the matter cannot be worked out simultaneously with the oil price hike. This failure reflects the lack of government coordination and pre-planning. The public deserves being spared the inconvenience arising from the confusion about the new fares for days on end. Furthermore, there needs to be a built-in mechanism for revising the fares, and experts, rather than administrative staff, should be employed to sort out the technical details.

But transporters, given their own ways, tend to charge too much. For instance, they have increased the fare of gas-operated vehicles by 35 per cent, whereas the price of gas has gone up less than 10 per cent. Strangely, after every major fuel price hike, the fare of the electricity-charged, battery-powered vehicles has also been increased. Such disproportion

between the rise in the cost and in the price has been seen also in the fares of vehicles operated by diesel and petrol. How much of the total operating cost of a vehicle does a given price of a fuel constitute? The changes in the prices of vehicles and spare parts need also to be regularly monitored, because, without correct information about these and other matters, the determination of fares, fair to both the operators and the passengers, is difficult to arrive at. Transport owners work in competition to a certain extent, but they also often operate some kind of cartel. In various parts of country, transport syndicates are very powerful, and they overcharge the buyers of their services — something the government has been unable to break for long despite calls for the abolition of this system from various quarters, including businessmen. Sadly, the government has often failed to enforce its laws and rules strictly. One of the examples is seen in the arbitrary increase by the dealers in the price of gas cylinders fixed by the NOC.