07/08/2009 10:11

The Land Transport Authority of Fiji (LTA) has criticised the Consumer Council of Fiji (LTA PR-7/08/09) of “poking ones nose into other people’s business, so one appears to be helping the public”.

The Council, on the other hand, considers itself as an organization working to protect the rights of the consumers, making the voice and concerns of the general public, many of whom come from the most vulnerable stratum of the society, heard.  While the Council does not see the need to justify its role, we would like to put it on record that since Wednesday (5/08/09) we have been inundated with visits, phone calls and e-mails from consumers around the country complaining or seeking advice on the bus fare increase. Therefore, we see it as its duty to relay these concerns to appropriate authorities so that the problems are rectified. 

There is no contention that, in a rush to implement the new bus fares, a big blunder has been made and now LTA is annoyed when the wrongs are pointed out to them.

It has been three days since the new fares came into effect and yet there are no markings on the new stages on the road. Furthermore, the drivers continue to give the public old fare tickets altered to incorporate the new fares marked in pen. The Council believes that by not ensuring that the bus operators have new fare tickets, LTA has defied its own regulation on compulsory issuance of tickets by bus operators. We would also like to ask what was the rush in implementing the fares. The LTA could have sought an extension of time from Ministry of Transport to ensure preparatory period is given to all parties for smooth implementation of new fares, for example, the public has adequate education and awareness on the new fare structure, new stages are marked on roads and new fare tickets are available. LTA’s incompetence is clearly visible.

The fact that LTA, as a statutory regulator, failed to inform and educate the consumers cannot be denied and the excuse that very little time was given to LTA to carry out this activity before the new increase came into effect is not acceptable too. Till to date, the consumers as well as the bus operators are confused on how the new fare structure works and as a result of this poor public continues to be overcharged. However, nothing can be done because of the excuse by the bus companies is that LTA has not provided them with the written notification on what charges are to be made.

LTA is accusing Council for not assisting but we have been on our awareness raising campaign from the day the fare came into force with its shoe string budget. Council have approached LTA to fund awareness raising program on bus fare increase.

The Council is also disturbed by LTA’s misleading comments on “bus fares have been increased by 13%”.  We believe that this claim should be immediately rectified with the actual increase correctly relayed to the consumers and the bus operators. This is because the bus operators are now using this claim as the basis to seek further increase in fares by arguing that 13% increment is insignificant to the costs they are incurring in running their operations, particularly due to rising fuel prices.  The truth is that new fare increase is way higher, going up as much as 64%. This figure was reached by using the standard formula for calculating the price changes.

The Council calls on LTA to provide the public with detailed information showing all the calculations and formula they have used to get a 13% increase so that the consumers (and the bus operators) have the accurate information without being in state of confusion.

The LTA should stop blaming the Government and other organizations for the mess created by them and sort this problem immediately so that the poor consumers are not cheated out of the hard earned dollar. Consumers’ and other stakeholders’ have a right to accurate information which is currently causing a state of panic and distrust and name calling or blame games are old tricks in the book to divert the real situation on the ground.