Govt backtracks on taxi fare hike

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE government has backtracked on its agreement with taxi operators for a fare hike, saying they need to consult the public before the new charges are implemented.

On Monday, the government and the taxi operators agreed on new fares which would see the fare for a ‘4+1’ taxi increase to M10 up from 6, 50.

It was also agreed that the fare for a minibus should be increased to M9 from M6, 50 while a bus would now charge M6, 50.

The fares, which would make Lesotho the most expensive in the Southern Africa region, were expected to come into effect on 1 July this year.

But even before the ink had dried on the Monday agreement, the government was singing a different tune on Tuesday, saying the fare hike should be deferred until after consultations with the public.

On Tuesday, the Transport Minister, Prince Maliehe, wrote to the Transport Board ordering it to defer the new fares.

“I…order that implementation of the new fares be deferred until we have made further consultations with the public,” part of Mr Maliehe’s letter states.

Mr Maliehe was not reachable for comment on the issue.

For his part, the Transport Ministry’s Principal Secretary, Thabo Motoko, said although he would not say why the fare hike had been deferred, he “can confirm that yet another meeting will be held with taxi operators on Thursday following the initial announcement”.

Mokete Jonas, the chairperson of the Maseru Regional Taxi Operators, said they had not received any official communication on the government’s about-turn and they would stick to their Monday agreement which effected fare increases.

“We have not had any official communication from the minister pertaining to the deferment of the new fares. Therefore we stand by our agreement of the new fares which were announced on Monday.

“We are not even aware that there is a meeting (with the government) on Thursday,” Mr Jonas said yesterday.

While announcing the new fares on Monday, Mr Maliehe said that reaching an agreement had not been easy as the taxi operators had demanded that the fares be increased to M15 for the 4+1 taxis.

“The (fares) agreement was made after lengthy consultations with all parties as this had to be for the good of commuters and taxi operators given the (poor) economy of the country,” Mr Maliehe said.

He said the law states that the transport board should periodically review the taxi fares.

“But for some reason the review hasn’t happened in the past five years and this has to be rectified. I had act now that the taxi operators had made their demands and they could agree with the (Transport) board.”

Mr Maliehe said the taxi industry was the only business that remained exclusively in the hands of Basotho and it needed to be treated with “utmost respect and it should benefit its owners who earn a living from it”.

Besides the 4+1 and minibus hikes for shorter distances, the fares for longer distances in the lowlands and the highlands have also been increased.

Commuters in the lowlands were now expected to fork out 71 lisente per kilometre when travelling by minibus and 59 lisente for a bus.

In the highlands, the fare had been increased to 89 lisente for a minibus and 65 lisente for a bus.

Meanwhile, the Lesotho Times has established that if implemented, Lesotho would have the highest taxi fare in the SADC region along with South Africa and Namibia. Zambia charges K6 (M7.50) while Zimbabwe charges US$0, 50 (M6, 20).  Mozambique charges the equivalent of M6, 20.

Namibia charges the equivalent of M10 while in South Africa, commuters pay anything from M9 to M12 depending on the distance.

If the new fares are implemented this would mean that a commuter would have to fork out M560 per month for daily travel. The figure would double to M1120 if the commuter has to take two taxis to reach their destination. That monthly fee of M1120 is just about as much as the monthly wage for many workers. A factory worker reportedly earns an average of M1 238 per month.

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