Response to article
4 November, 2017, 12:00 am
THIS article is a continuation of the council’s response to Savenaca Narube’s article on “Poor carry the cost” published in The Fiji Times on 21/10/17.
This article will focus on the process involved in introducing eticketing and the cost borne by poor consumers if eticketing was not the option.
Submissions/consultations/reasons for the eticketing system
From 2007, the council has been lobbying for a reform in the bus industry, which is public knowledge and one can access this information from the council’s website http://www.consumersfiji.org/research/submissions.
During the global financial crisis in 2008, the fuel and food prices skyrocketed and the Fiji Bus Operators Association (FBOA) demanded a bus fare increase. At that time, the diesel price escalated to $2.39/l unlike today the price is $1.55/l.
In 2008, the FBOA’s main concern was the cost of fuel and this culminated in a bus strike (Orion Report). After the strike in late December 2008 the LTA, Ministry of Works and Transport, in conjunction with the FBOA, engaged Orion Consulting Associates based in UK to carry out a comprehensive review of the bus industry, including the effectiveness of subsidies.
The Orion report on the Fiji Bus Industry Review released in 2009 strongly recommended that the bus operators should introduce pre-paid tickets by installing ticket machines or move towards electronic ticketing system to reduce millions of dollars lost through fraud.
To assist the operators, the Government offered free fiscal duty on ticketing machines and ticketing machine parts in the 2009 budget to encourage bus operators to install eticketing machines.
Also in August 2009, bus fares were increased up to 65 per cent but only a handful of operators installed the machine, which meant the pilferage was not contained.
The Government signed an agreement with FBOA in 2011 to cease fuel concessions granted to the industry and to introduce the eticketing system http://www.fiji.gov.fj/Media-Center/Press-Releases/Bus-fare-deal.aspx
In February 2013, the first attempt was made by the industry to move towards eticketing system where interoperability became an issue with different consoles being used.
One had to buy a smart card and the minimum top up was $5; there was a shift in deadlines for the use of eticketing cards because all operators did not install the consoles; there was a change in price of the smart cards when the council highlighted the plight of the poor from $10 to $2 and reduction of the minimum $5 top-up to $2.
Needless to say, LTA had to go back to the drawing board to allow new players to compete with Vodafone Fiji Ltd.
Because self-regulation by FBOA failed, the government had to intervene to regulate eticketing.
In other words, first option was given to the industry to fix the fraud issue.
The Government amended the Land Transport Regulations for the introduction and establishment of the electronic ticketing system after problems were identified after the launch of eticketing.
From 2014, not only FBOA but also the Consumer Council of Fiji lobbied for re-introduction of eticketing system — http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=401388; https://www.pressreader.com/Fiji.
Further, at this juncture, it is worth noting that the Government had opened the eticketing implementation phase to all telecommunications agents available on the condition that the system must be interoperable.
However, some key players in the market opted out.
The eticketing system has not been implemented overnight.
Consultations with the relevant stakeholders and members of the public have been ongoing since 2009.
The public was given adequate time and opportunity to make submissions on the eticketing system in 2013.
The option of using checkers/auditors as suggested by Mr Narube are not appropriate because pilferage continued even with checkers/auditors used by the bus operators then.
His idea of closed receptors would mean carrying exact bus fare for each travel with no provision to give change.
Again, this would be problematic for the travelling passengers to carry exact fare for each travel.
If rotating the driver’s route could have solved the problem, then there was no need to introduce eticketing as a solution and FBOA would not have supported eticketing initiative.
It is to be noted that the various options given by Mr Narube has been trialled except closed receptors for obvious reasons.
The only solution to contain pilferage was to ensure money was not exchanged between the travelling public and the bus drivers.
We do agree that implementation of eticketing system has been problematic and it is causing frustration and inconvenience to some consumers.
The breakdown of machines, incorrect fares being charged, not enough disposable cards in the bus, not enough top-up centres and machines being tampered with are some of the recurring issues of the new system.
Moreover, drivers not receiving timely training on the usage of the system had added to the mess.
The council is ensuring that consumers receive redress and implementers fix these problems based on consumer grievances.
It is envisaged that continuous improvement will shift the bus industry away from relying on taxpayer- funded subsidies and concessions.
Disposable cards and consumer choice
Consumers have the option of buying a disposable card.
These cards can be purchased from any Vodafone, Valuefone, Mr Mobile outlet or in the bus itself.
Disposable cards are available in $2, $5, $10, $20 and $50 denominations and expire after 30 days from its first use.
Consumers can get a refund of any unused money on their disposable card from any Vodafone outlets.
Consumers have a choice to pay their bus fare by using their etransport card or by paying cash to the driver to buy a disposable card for as little as $2.
This option also controls pilferage because all disposable cards can be reconciled.
The council anticipates that in the near future the bus fare will be deducted based on the distance travelled through GPS system.
This system will phase out any driver involvement with the machine.
We are living in the digital age and such changes are inevitable.
From consumers’ point of view, the council would like to see significant improvements in the current system.
This challenge lies squarely on Vodafone to ensure top-up and disposable cards are easily accessed by consumers just like the way they access recharge cards for their mobile phones.
And bus operators must ensure their drivers are well trained and there is ample disposable cards available on their bus to make it more convenient for the end users.
The council reiterates that it has always maintained a supportive stance on the eticketing system as it will not only benefit the bus industry and the Government but the consumers as well.
Basing bus fares on unreliable data and giving out concessions and subsidies to a tune of $6 – $8 million dollars every year is a loss borne by the poor.
Every effort must be made to reform our bus industry for the benefit of everyone.
* This is a regular contribution from the Consumer Council of Fiji. Email: email@example.com for feedback.