THE past few months, Zambia, like many other countries in Africa, experienced incessant fuel pump hikes and this resulted in price increases in many other commodities.
The fuel hikes were necessitated by oil producing countries due to factors which included wars and other problems which made it difficult for non-oil producing countries to easily get the commodity.
Like has always been the case, there was a chain reaction when oil prices were increased because many economies depended on oil especially diesel and petrol which turned the wheels of the industries.
When fuel prices were hiked, producers of other commodities in the industries also increased the prices of the goods and services they provided and one of the industries which were well known for increasing the prices of their services was the transport sector.
In the recent past, prices for transport services, especially for buses, has been going up each time the government announced fuel pump prices and the general public has been complaining about the continuing price increases in bus fares
While all the other industries are affected with fuel increases, it seems like those in transport, particularly bus and taxi operators, are the only ones who are most affected considering the way they react each time the government announces fuel pump prices.
As soon as the fuel pump prices are announced, passenger bus operators cry out loudly and quickly want to increase bus fares.
What concerns many commuters is that even before the owners of the buses talk about increasing the prices of fares, it is the bus crews, such as callboys, conductors and drivers, who talk about the need to increase the bus fares.
But when the Government announces the reduction of fuel pump prices, the drivers and the conductors resist reducing the bus fares.
Recently, the Government reduced the fuel pump prices but the bus fares remained as they were despite complaints from the public that the fares should also be reduced.
The reduction never happened because the bus operators and their employees claimed that the fare charts had not yet been released.
This resulted in many people complaining that when the fuel prices are increased, the bus operators and their drivers and conductors are quick to announce the increase in bus fares.
But when the fuel pump prices are reduced, the transporters refuse to reduce the bus fares.
On Monday this week, I jumped on a mini bus going to Chifubu Township from Ndola Teaching Hospital in Ndola.
When I was getting onto the mini bus, I found passengers and the bus crew quarrelling bitterly, with some passengers claiming that fuel prices had been reduced and they were not prepared to pay old fares.
The bus crew claimed that the fare charts had not been released and they could not reduce the bus fares.
Imwe ngamwaumfwa ukuti ama futa naba lunda, bwangu bwangu ninshi mwalundako kuma bus fares nomba ngabafumyako umutengo wamafuta, tamufwaya ukufumyako kumutengo wakulipila ama bus fares (When you hear that there is an increase on fuel, you quickly hike the bus fares but when they reduce the fuel price, you don’t want to reduce the bus fares),” one woman said.
Tabalatweba ukuti nabafumyako umutengo wa fuel ifwe nama fare charts tabafumishe. Ifyo mulefyumfwilafye pa news, ifwe tatufishibe (They have not yet told us that they have reduced the fuel price and they have not given us the fare charts. You are just hearing that on news, we don’t know anything concerning that),” the conductor replied.
Another passenger, a man, looked at the conductor while shaking his head.
“Iwe conductor taulelanda ichishinka. Nawishiba ukuti balifyumyako umutengo wa mafuta nomba tamulefwayafye ukufumyako umutengo wakulipila. Ngabachilunda nga naimwebene namulundako ukwabula nama bus fare charts. Efyomwaba (You conductor, you are not saying the truth.
You know that they reduced the fuel price but you just don’t want to reduce the bus fares. If they increased the fuel prices, you could have also increased the bus fares without the fare charts. You are like that),” the passenger said.
As the man was talking, the call boy who was directing some passengers onto the bus shouted while pointing at the man “unono saana umutengo wamafuta bafumisheko. Chimonokweba ati tabafumyisheko. Ulepanga fye ichongo iwe kamudala (It is a very little amount they have reduced. It is just as good as not reducing. You are just making noise you man),” the call boy said.
The other people who were on the bus then revolted with many of them saying they would not pay the old fares.
The call boy then turned to the man who first argued with him and said he should pay the old bus fare or else he would be taken to the police station.
The man told him he would rather jump off the bus and catch another one because there were many other buses other than him (the call boy) disrespecting him
Other passengers agreed with the man and said they would catch another bus.
On hearing this, the call boy and the conductor closed the door and the driver started the engine
As the bus was about to move, the call boy opened the door and started shouting at the man who was probably in his late 30s or mid 40s.
“If you continue making noise, we will take you to the police station,” the callboy said.
The minibus driver sided with the call boy and told the man that if he had money, he should buy his own vehicle and stop using public transport.
This statement irritated many passengers and one of the men said it was not that all people who used public transport did not have vehicles and it was wrong for him to talk to passengers in that way.
The call boy again pointed at the man he started the argument with and said he would be taken to the police station.
It was because of this that the man asked the young man what wrong he had done for him to be taken to the police station.
“What wrong have I done that you are insisting that you will take me to the police station? Do you know all the people who are in this bus and do you know what jobs they do? Come on, jump on the bus, let’s go to the police station so that you go and explain what I have done wrong,” the man said.
On hearing what the callboy had said, a woman said conductors and drivers behaved like they were the owners of the buses.
“These call boys, conductors and drivers behave as if they are the owners of the vehicles and yet they are just employees,” the woman said.
She said the call boy was even saying if the man had money he should buy his own vehicles and stop using public transport as if the bus was his.
“Their parents and relatives have no vehicles. They use these same mini buses and they complain just like we are complaining,” the woman said and many passengers agreed with her.
As the mini bus moved on, the conductor started collecting the bus fares. While some passengers were paying the old fares, others insisted that the fares had been reduced and they were paying less.
The conductor then started complaining that the owners of the buses had set a target of how much they (conductors and the drivers) were supposed to cash in when they knocked off and because of what some passengers were paying, they would not reach the target.
Another passenger argued that mini bus fares were standard and those who boarded from town paid the same price as those who boarded on the way.
“You make a lot of money. Those who board from town and those who are boarding on the way pay the same fare. When others drop off, others jump on but they are paying the same fare, there’s nothing like one is going near or far, “commented the man.
Soon, we reached Kansenshi Police Station and the man who was being threatened that he would be taken to the police station jumped off the mini bus.
As he was walking towards the police camp, a woman who was also arguing with the bus crew exclaimed: “You see, the man you were threatening to take to the police station is a police man. You should mind the way you talk. You can’t know all the people you take and ridicule.”
The argument between the passengers and the bus crew continued until we reached Chifubu bus station.
Truly bus operators and their employees are quick to suggest the increase of bus fares when fuel prices are hiked.
They should also be quick to reduce the bus fares when fuel prices are reduced.
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