THE announcement that bus fares are increased by 60 per cent is a decision that would further burden people already having been in an extreme economic distress because of the COVID-19 outbreak. As the general holiday ordered as a preventive measure against the novel coronavirus infection ended on May 30, informal labour and public at large will bear the brunt of the rushed and unjustified decision of bus fare increase. The government has eased the restrictions on transport movement on the condition that the buses can only run with 50 per cent of their passenger capacity to ensure physical distancing needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The transport owners’ association, meanwhile, demanded a 100 per cent increase in bus fare. Considering that buses are allowed to run on the road with half their capacity and that oil prices on the international market have plummeted during the pandemic, the decision to increase bus fare by even 60 per cent seems unreasonable. It rather reflects, as many suggest, the influence that the transport owners’ lobby has on government policymaking.
The restrictions on transport movement have, of course, been costly for the sector. The worst of this economic consequence is borne by transport workers who depend on their daily income from the trips that they make. The decision to run buses with 50 per cent of passenger capacity for health safety reasons will also impact the sector, but to minimise the economic losses, burdening passengers unduly is a decision that the government should immediately reconsider. The people rushing back to the city to return to work, especially in the informal sector, have now been without income for more than two months. In economic hardship, when the government was expected to go, as it has happened in many countries, for subsidy in transport for people, the government has, rather, left the task of ensuring a comfortable return of people in the hands of transport business with mere directives on health safety. The road transport and bridges minister has tried to justify the increase saying that the increased bus fare will only remain effective during the outbreak, which many think is only rhetorical given that the government has largely not been able to enforce the bus fare for public transport that it has earlier set in everyday circumstances. Time and again, it has been reported how transport operators have arbitrarily increased bus fare and exploited passengers.
In the context of COVID-19 outbreak, the decision to ease restrictions on transport movement is linked with managing the influx of labour force to the city, arranging for testing points to screen for the novel coronavirus infection and business aspect only constitute part of the consideration. The government, however, seems to have focused largely on minimising the losses of transport owners by burdening people with increased fare. The government must, therefore, reconsider the bus fare increase, evaluate the overall situation, take into account the economic vulnerability of low- and fixed-income people and health risks involved in the process.
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