Transport sector chokes as fuel price skyrockets

Obrein Simasiku
“Hunger, poverty and bills will finish us” were some of the comments raised by struggling taxi drivers as they bemoaned the high fuel prices which have seen the profits of their business reduced to the bare minimum, while passengers are feeling the pinch as they dig deeper into their pockets.

Since the beginning of this year, fuel has increased about three times, with the latest in April bringing prices at N$20.23 for diesel and N$19.10 petrol, respectively in Windhoek. The adjustments were necessitated by increasing global oil prices, exacerbated by the geo-political situation and the war between Russian and Ukraine, which are major gas and oil producers.

“We are only driving because that is the only choice we have, getting something is better than nothing, but honestly, what we receive goes directly to fuel. I carry nothing much at home, apart from the little used to buy bread. The increasing fuel price is not only killing our business but our families too, due to starvation as we can’t provide like before,” laments Angula Thomas, who ferries commuters between Windhoek and Okahandja.

“Before the successive adjustments, I could fuel a full tank for N$500 but now, it’s costing N$940, more than what I can make in a day. Now tell me, how much am I taking home? For instance, I transport to Okahandja, we adjusted the price to N$80 to make-up, but still passengers are unable to afford and pay less, it is a compromise,” added Thomas.

Broke customers

Most drivers said increasing the transport fare is not a solution for as long as average employees are not getting any salary hikes. Most driver said, customers are struggling to afford to pay the fares.

“What we hope and want is for fuel to go down, therefore we implore government to act by at least subsiding the fuel to reduce. Even if we increase fares, it’s still pointless because passengers will not travel as they cannot afford, thus affecting us even more. We all want the money, however none of us have it, hence our only hope is the government,” added another driver Collen Muvaree, who operates at Leonard Auala loading point.

Muvaree drives a VW Polo, even though he says it is better with fuel consumption, his feeling the brunt. Before he could fill-up with N$500 but at the moment, it goes up to N$1000. “There is suffering and seems no way to evade if things continue like this. Even food prices have gone up, everything is now unaffordable,” stated Muvaree.

Many of the taxi and long distance bus operators have adjusted transport fees in an effort to mitigate the costs, even though this is an illegal act, as the government has not approved any fare increment. These actions, are passed on to the innocent passenger, who is left with no choice other than to fork out more on transport.

Permits & Fines

Long distance drivers operating at B1 loading zone, are demanding the immediate finalisation of the issuance of permits to Seven Seater operators, saying they too are trying to make a meaningful living, they said.

In addition, they said, its not their wish to operate illegally but it’s due to the hardships of life. “We are law abiding citizen that respect the rule of law, so we are asking the government to grant us the permit, and regulate how we operate on a win-win situation, as opposed to now where their plans are tantamount to suffocating us. We have endured a lot of traffic fines, enough is enough, help us,” said a driver operating on the Grootfontein-Rundu route.

“We heard they want us to operate within a radius of 250 kilometres. It’s not fair as this doesn’t even allow us to reach Otjiwarongo. In fact, we are contributing a lot of money in levies but nothing seems to be geared to uplift the public transport sector. Why are we being neglected. Our plight is simple, give us the permits and also work towards reducing the petrol price,” stressed Tangeni Shigwedha.

Illegal fees

The Namibia Bus and Taxi Association (Nabta) president Pendapala Nakathingo, says they have proposed a 15 percent increase to government which will see taxi fares going up to N$15, while other long distances routes will be increased by the same margin.

“Prices charged by various operators are illegal and it’s a crime which is punishable as it is not sanctioned by any law. Therefore, we caution all those who are doing so to desist, and I encourage passengers to report those who are charging them ridiculously,” said Nakathingo.

On a positive note, the association’s president said, they have made a proposal to the government to reduce multiple fuel levies, mass distance charges, while also lobbying the authorities to clamp down on illegal transporters. “I strongly argue and urge the government to look into some of these demands because its irrational to charge public transporters more than five times in different levies, of which all are geared towards road maintenance. In fact, these are their best customers fuelling everyone, thus why should they face such harsh treatment.”

“We heard that Road Fund Administration bought new fleet for law enforcing, but such cars are not here to protect and serve the public transport’s interest, but rather to nail them further. How can you expect the vehicles to be 100 percent roadworthy when they are being overcharged in multiple levies, thus left with little to nothing for maintenance? Therefore, let’s look into this matter seriously,” said Nakathingo.

By Observer