ON January 16, 2015, the Government reduced the prices of fuel by an average of K2.60, mainly due to the fall in the prices of crude oil on the international market.
Cumulatively, between October 2014 and January 2015, the Government had, through the Energy Regulations Board (ERB), reduced the fuel pump prices by K3.03 or 28.50 per cent for petrol; K3.42 or 34.17 per cent for diesel and K2.79 or 37.30 per cent for kerosene.
The Government’s move was aimed at ensuring that Zambians continued benefiting from the global falling fuel prices.
Naturally, the Government and everyone had anticipated that transporters or bus and taxi operators would reduce the costs of their services as a way of passing on the benefits to the commuters and other transport users.
This was not to be and the Zambian travelling community remained among a few groupings which have not directly benefited from the reduction of fuel prices on the international market in the recent past.
This is because whenever the reduction in fuel pump prices were effected, bus operators did not respond accordingly by reducing the fares.
So, the fares have remained high for a long time, while there has been some relief in some sectors in terms of price reductions prompted by the low prices of petrol and diesel.
Whenever they are required to pass on the positive effects of lower prices of fuel to the commuters, the public transport operators have always averred that fuel cost is not a major component of their production cost.
They claim that because of this, the reduction in the prices of fuel does not entail an immediate and automatic reduction in the fares.
In their view, before calling for the reduction of the fares one has to take a lot of factors – like the tear and wear, salaries for the drivers, as well as some statutory obligations like road taxes and other fees – into consideration.
When it comes to passing on the negative effects of increased fuel prices, however, the cost of petrol or diesel becomes the main deciding cost of production and in no time, the operators respond to that by effecting the fare adjustments.
Sensing the recurrence of that, Transport, Works, Supply and Communications Minister, Yamfwa Mukanga had early this week timely warned that any increment in taxi and bus fares now would be illegal.
This followed the increment of the fuel pump prices by the ERB last week.
Against that caution by the minister, however, the bus operators in Ndola have gone already to effect the increase while schemes for others to follow suit abound.
Yes, in defiance of that warning, the operators in Ndola have effected the fare increases on most routes by K1.
Like the Government, we are not convinced by the reasons the operators have advanced for their unwarranted move.
We feel this is not being fair to the travellers, who, unlike the transport operators, have no big voice to air out and plead their case.
In the end the commuters are consigned to the receiving end and made to bear the final brunt of any adverse changes on the market.
There is need for the bus operators to, on their own volition, exercise fairness and responsibility by looking at the plight of the poor commuters who are being exploited.
Nevertheless, if that is expecting too much from the operators then one cannot be faulted for calling on the Government, using its relevant wings, to come up with a mechanism of regulating fares in the country.
The prices can, for instance, be pegged to the fuel prices so that as the ERB announces either fuel price increments or reductions, the fares will be adjusted accordingly.
But that should be looked at as the last resort. Opinion