‘Taxi fare increase will happen with or without permission’

‘Taxi fare increase will happen with or without permission’

MASERU – The government and transport operators are on a collision course over a taxi fare increase planned to come into effect next month. The government says the plan by transport operators in Maseru to hike fares by more than 120 percent is illegal and unjustified. But operators say the increase is long overdue, citing rising operational costs. Taxi operators announced last week that even if the Transport Board refuses to take their proposed taxi fare increment, “we will implement it notwithstanding”.

“There has to be increment to M15 because we are suffering as the taxi industry,” says Lebohang Moea, the spokesman for the transport operators. “The cost of maintaining vehicles has escalated over the years but the board has always refused to increase the taxi fares to where it will be fair to us,” Moea says. “You can count the many years that we have made proposals for the increments but we were ignored,” he says.

“This time we are going to implement these new prices irrespective of any opposing views by the transport board.” He argues that fuel prices continue to rise each year and sometimes more than once a year without corresponding increases in fares. The last time the taxi fares were increased was in 2012, from M4 to M6 for 12 to 15 passenger taxis and M6.50 for sedans. Even then, the increment came after five years and the taxi operators were already fighting and threatening a nationwide strike.

“This is not an increase,” Moea says, adding: “We are just catching up.” Moea says some of their taxis, especially those imported from Japan, are serviced every month for about M2 000 while others are serviced after three to four months. He argues that a taxi hardly generates M300 per day, which is M9 000 a month. From this amount the operator is expected to pay the driver at least M2 000 and M1 500 for an assistant before factoring in other costs associated with running a taxi business. “There is no profit in this business. Because of that the majority of us are underpaying the drivers,” he says.

“When a taxi breaks down the owner is unable to repair it because he was not making enough money that can be saved,” he says. “When it finally gets broken beyond repair the owner is unable to replace it.” Moea says an operator needs M110 for a fitness licence of the car and M2 000 for the permit. “These are not the only expenses but I’m just mentioning a few.” As for factory workers failing to afford the new fares, Moea says taxi operators would not care less. The problem, he says, was that employers in the textile industry do not want to increase their workers’ wages.

“Workers should negotiate wage increment not any decrease of the taxi fare,” he says. The Department of Traffic says the public should not panic because it will not agree to the increment. The department says the taxi operators do not have a legal standing to increase the fares as this was the sole mandate of the board. The board has not taken a decision on the price, the department announced in a press statement.

“It is a criminal offence to increase the prices without the board (’s approval). The board will take action against those who will increase the prices,” the statement says. Acting Commissioner of Traffic Katiso Ntoane says according to the Legal Notice No 129 of 2004 Road Transport Regulations, “it is only the board that has the right to increase taxi fares”.

“The board increases the prices basing on different things,” Ntoane says. Ntoane says the board increases fares based on inflation, affordability and fuel prices among other factors.

Makhotso Rakotsoane

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