HIGH GAS PRICES, POOR ROADS THREATEN FIJI BUS SYSTEM

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, July 2) – Rising fuel prices, deplorable road conditions and the increased number of competitors is threatening the future and viability of the bus industry in Fiji, says the Fiji Bus Operators Association.

While not seeking a direct government handout, the association, which has ruled out fare increases for the year, said it was seeking a clear indication of government policy to map out the future of the industry.

It said instead of a fare increase, which the association believes will affect the poor, the association wants the interim Government to increase its fuel grant from 10 per cent to 25 per cent to cover burgeoning costs and keep the industry afloat.

The Laisenia Qarase-led SDL government had previously agreed to a fuel grant scheme of 20 cents per litre from January last year but this was cut in half by Mr Chaudhry since the interim administration took over.

The industry had previously agreed to the fuel grant to cover the 50 per cent fare cuts it was charging the elderly and disabled.

Association president Pyara Singh said despite the many obstacles facing the industry, the government had shown "no real appreciation of the hard work of bus operators".

"Its future profitability and stability is threatened because bus operators could not get a fair return on investment," he said.

"We never had an occasion in the bus industry in Fiji when an operator had sufficient return on his investment.''

Mr Singh said a mechanism for an automatic and periodic review of bus fares needed to be put in place because fares could not be backdated.

"The increase should be based on variation to cost components including fuel and oil, repairs and maintenance, tires, depreciation, insurance and wages,'' he said. Mr Singh made the comments at the Fiji Bus Operators Convention over the weekend.

Among other issues raised by operators were that were too many operators with no sizable fleets and traffic congestion between the Nadi to Lautoka Queen's Highway which was proving a danger to bus drivers who work the route.

The condition of roads was highlighted as one of the major impediments facing the industry as it was affecting the ability of some companies to keep to schedule.

Interim Tansport Minister Manu Korovulavula was unavailable for a comment.

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