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Bus fares should reduce accordingly

IT IS good news for long-distance travellers that stakeholders in the public transport sector have resolved to cut down bus fares for inter-city routes by K10. This is in view of the decreased fuel pump prices by the Energy Regulation Board (ERB) nearly 12 days ago. The price of a litre of petrol reduced by K2.35 and it has been selling at K24.15 from K26.50. A litre of low-sulphur diesel now costs K25.64 from K26.22, while the price of the same quantity of kerosene went down from K19.32 to K18.76.
ERB attributed the reduced cost of petroleum products in Zambia to plummeted oil prices on the international market and stability in exchange rate between the Kwacha and major convertible currencies. Yesterday, Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) announced in a statement that bus operators had resolved to reduce inter-city bus fares following the drop in pump prices of fuel. “From the foregoing, bus fares for all inter-city routes have been reduced by K10 with effect from May 12, 2022.
“However, bus fares for other routes, including inter-mine, peri-urban, and local routes, will be maintained due to the negligible average price reduction of petrol and diesel,” Fredrick Mubanga, the RTSA head of public relations, said. Notwithstanding that commuters on local, inter-mine and peri-urban routes somewhat feel unhappy about their exclusion from enjoying the trickle-down effects of reduced bus fares, the justification by operators of negligible fuel price reduction is understandable. As Consumer Rights Association president Aaron Kamuti aptly put it recently, we urge bus operators to graciously honour their resolution to reduce bus fares for inter-city routes by resisting all manner of temptation to work against their own resolve. Mr Kamuti advised bus operators against hurrying to demand upward adjustments in fares when fuel prices go up because they never reduce the charges when petroleum costs get slashed. Going by Mr Kamuti’s view, bus operators must be user-friendly and understand the challenges most commuters face and avoid exploiting them just because of the insatiable desire to make money. “There is selfishness among bus operators. They always think about their businesses, they don’t think about people whose salaries are stuck, including those for their drivers,” he said. We agree with Mr Kamuti in every aspect. Oftentimes when prices of fuel are lowered by ERB, they are very reluctant to adjust downwards their bus fares. Yet, they are always in a hurry to raise the charges when prices of petroleum products rise, citing a myriad reasons. Government has played its part by lowering the cost of fuel in Zambia in tandem with prevailing global oil prices. So it is only fair that bus operators implement their resolution to reduce inter-city bus fares. Any delay in cutting down bus fares will be tantamount to utter exploitation of commuters, who are supposed to benefit from trickle-down effects of the fallen pump prices of fuel.
We say so because when ERB raised fuel prices last month by an average of K4.50, as usual, bus operators immediately started demanding upward adjustments in fares. And true to their calls, public transport stakeholders convened as a matter of urgency and resolved to increase bus fares for all routes. It was on April 4 that RTSA announced the approved new bus fares following a consultative meeting held three days earlier. Copperbelt inter-mine routes attracted an average rise in bus fares of K5 and K2 for local movements. Correspondingly, fares for Lusaka local routes equally rose by K2 and K5 for peri-urban movements.
That is why this time around we expect bus operators to move with the same pace at which they did when they increased fares last month so that travellers can have some relief. We urge RTSA, also possibly traffic police, and indeed bus associations to keenly monitor the situation so that no one is exploited by public transport operators as has been the case in the past.