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Push for a compromise

THE battle between the government and public transport operators over taxi fares rages on.
On Friday the Maseru Region Transport Operators (MRTO) obtained an interim court order barring the Road Transport Board from effecting new taxi fares which they say are well below the 100 percent they wanted.
According to the new fares announced by the transport board and were due to come into effect tomorrow (Monday) 4-plus-one taxis were supposed to review their charges from M4.50 to M5.50 for a local trip (0 to 10km).
Minibuses were supposed to charge M5, up from M4, while conventional buses were going to increase their fares from M2.70 to M3.50.
The bone of contention here is about taxi fares the transport board thinks the public can afford and charges that transport operators think are enough for them to remain viable.
Yet we think that the 100 percent increase taxi operators want is on the high side.
The equation just doesn’t balance.
The inflation rate is below six percent.
Salaries in the civil service, the country’s biggest employer, were increased by five percent this year.
Wages in the textile industry, the second biggest employer after the government, increased by four percent.
The general trend is that salaries in the country, across all the sectors, increased by figures below 10 percent.
Although the prices of fuel, a major cost for the transport operators, have started creeping back to 2009 levels the truth is that the recent increases are nowhere near 100 percent.
Let’s remember too that when fuel prices dropped significantly transport operators enjoyed increased profit margins for many months.
We doubt that vehicle maintenance costs have doubled in the past 12 months.
We are also sure that wages in the transport sector have not increased at that rate.
While it is true that the government has increased the fees for vehicle permits by a huge margin we are sceptical that the new charges are enough to justify hitting passengers with such a steep increase in fares.
Nobody doubts that taxi operators deserve a review to remain viable but it is the magnitude of the fare increase they are demanding that is not reasonable.
We detect an element of greed on their part.
The taxi operators themselves will be the first to admit that a taxi fare of M9 per trip would mean disaster for the passengers.
Already, many people have resorted to walking to work because they cannot afford the current taxi fares.
There is no doubt that a 100 percent increase will see more people walking to work.
The taxi operators must balance their pursuit for profit with the plight of the passengers, the very people they seek to serve in the first place.
There are those who might argue that the taxi operators deserve the increase they are demanding because the government recently cranked up its service charges by equally exorbitant margins.
This is a discredited argument for it deliberately omits the fact that while most of the government charges have remained stagnant for years the taxi operators have been allowed to review their charges almost on an annual basis.
In any case most of the increased charges cannot be classified as key cost elements for the transport sector.
The new fares proposed by the transport board might not be enough for transport operators to keep their vehicle on the road but a 100 percent increase in fares will also not keep commuters in their vehicles either.
The answer lies in striking a balance between what is affordable for consumers and what keeps the public vehicles on the road.
We don’t think that is an impossible compromise.

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