ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankans can force a drop in tuk-tuk fares by refusing to hire threewheelers to reduce demand, Transport Minister Bandula Gunawardena said, a suggestion that tuk drivers say is nonsensical as they stick to their guns despite a reduction in petrol prices.
Speaking at the weekly cabinet press briefing on Wednesday October 26, Minister Gunawardena said when prices are decided by the market, consumers are the ultimate authority in price control.
“Consumers have the power to revise prices based on their consumption. There was a hike in vegetable and fruit prices recently. There was a drop in buyers and, since vendors are unable to keep non-perishable goods for long, the prices came down,” he said.
“Similarly, if the public can’t afford extreme threewheeler fares, they have the right to be informed, to be protective and to make a choice.”
Earlier in the week, President Ranil Wickremesinghe approved a proposal to increase the weekly fuel quota allocated to threewheeler drivers to 10 litres from the current five-litre limit with effect from November 05.
The first phase of the quota increase will commence in the Western province and threewheel drivers will be required to follow a registration process that will commence on November 01.
The All Island Threewheeler Drivers’ Association, however, is refusing to budge.
The association’s chairman Lalith Dharmasena said his union will not reduce tuk taxi fares despite the doubling of the petrol quota. Their demand is for a weekly quota of at least 30 litres.
Though there have been a reduction in tuk fares overall since the height of Sri Lanka’s fuel crisis, due to increased living costs and spare part prices, fares have remained at a significantly higher level despite the recent drop in petrol prices. Consumers complain that many drivers charge them arbitrarily decided fares, while tuks associated with Dharmasena’s association charges 100 to 140 rupees for the first kilometre and 110 to 130 rupees a kilometre from the second kilometre onwards.
Responding to Minister Gunawardena’s remarks, Dharmasena said the government should appoint a fare revision committee instead of distracting from the issue with what he called ‘crazy talk’. (Dharmasena’s actual words are too colourful for publication).
“[Opposition MP] Kumara Welgama in 2013 was the first person to gazette a fare revision committee. In 2017, [then minister] Nimal Siripala de Silva amended this proposal twice and the gazette which was to be implemented in 2013 was reversed in 2017 and there were no fare review committees after that,” said Dharmasena.
“The National Transport Commission is only in charge of private buses. We have been asking for years for the proposal to be accepted but there has been no response,” he added.
Dharmasena said the income of families of commercial threewheeler drivers has reduced since early this year with people reducing the use of threewheelers for transportation due to inflation hitting everyone hard.
Due to the absence of a fare revision committee, he said, different rates can be seen among tuk drivers, driving consumers further away from the service.
“The government should step in and set a rate, but instead they are making obnoxious statements,” said Dharmasena.
Ride-hailing platforms like Uber and PickMe do not have price issues because they have a set rate that people trust, he added.
Dharmasena also claimed that import controls imposed by the government are useless due to the cut paid by local Uber drivers to the Uber headquarters overseas, which he said is an outflow.
“When things go south because of their own decisions, the government tells the public to reduce threewheeler demand. I’d like to see how they win the election this year,” he said.
“If that’s what a leader is supposed to say, then all I have to say is there are no leaders in the country. Since we gained Independence, we haven’t had leaders. We only had rulers. Not everyone is a leader, because even a shepherd is a leader,” he added. (Colombo/Oct26/2022)