Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) says it is going to talk to stakeholders in the public transport sector to find a ‘reasonable solution’, following a public outcry over recently announced revised transport fares, which saw a hike in the cost of transport.
The regulatory body reacted on Sunday following public complaints on social media, which saw the hashtag #RURA4TransportFairness trending, with many accusing RURA of revising transport fares upwards without considering the economic situation in the country which was worsened by the New Coronavirus outbreak.
Last week, RURA announced new transport fares in the City of Kigali and on upcountry routes, which saw a reduction on the rates introduced at the beginning of June, following a suspension of public transport in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
However, compared to pre-COVID-19 rates, the new fares reflected an increase, a development which angered many who accused RURA of not considering the citizens and the economic hardships they are facing due to the pandemic but rather the interests of the investors in the transport sectors.
RURA however said that the new rates had been revised based on a number of factors, including the cost of operation for each route as well as other factors that directly impact the sector, which was also hard hit by the New Coronavirus outbreak.
Responding to a tweet by singer Clarisse Karasira, who is among the many who took to social media to petition the regulator to listen to the pleas of the people, RURA said it was looking into public concerns to find a solution to the situation.
“RURA bases fares on the principle of fairness to both the public & service provider to ensure sustainability of these services. But we are mindful of the impact on passengers & continue to engage all stakeholders for a reasonable solution,” the regulator said.
Karasira urged RURA to look into the decision to hike transport fares, citing the economic hardships citizens are enduring due to COVID-19 as the reason the timing for the increase was wrong.
The increment came after a cabinet meeting chaired by President Paul Kagame last week increased occupancy in public buses to 100 percent for seated passengers and 50 percent for standing passengers.
Though a communiqué released by RURA on Wednesday, October 14, 2020, indicated that provincial transport costs to and from Kigali City had been reduced from Rwf30.8 to Rwf25.9 per kilometer while city public passenger costs have been slashed from Rwf31.9 to Rwf28.9 per kilometer, commuters were quick to figure out that there was an increase if compared to pre-COVID fares.
A journey that cost Rwf300 in February would now cost Rwf500 while an upcountry route which used to cost Rwf3100 would now cost about Rwf4100.
This infuriated commuters who took to social media to express their anger. The Chairperson of Transparency International- Rwanda Chapter, Marie Immaculee Ingabire is among those who have called on President Kagame to intervene in the situation and listen to the pleas of the masses.
While appearing on the KT Radio’s talk show ‘Ubyumva Ute’, on Thursday last week, Tony Kulamba, the Head of Transport at RURA, said that the fares were well-thought, to ensure that both the transport operators and consumers benefit in equal measure.
“When we are setting up transport fares, RURA looks at the interests of both the passengers and the transport operators, to ensure that none of the two incurs losses,”
“The transport operators invest a lot in the busses and incur operation costs but we also know that people need to have affordable transport means. So the new rates were arrived at based on that but we look more at the interests of the citizens,” Kulamba explained.
Dr Benjamin Rutimirwa, the Director of Economic Regulation at RURA also explained that the new rates, though are slightly higher than the transport fares of the Pre-COVID-19 period, it was reduced compared to the rates that were introduced in June following the return of public transport.
“Overall, there is a reduction if you look at it based on the existing fares that were introduced with the measures against COVID-19 but if compared to the rates before the COVID period, there is an increase,” Dr Rutimirwa said.
He said that the new transport fares factored in many things such as reinvestment in public transport, helping investors meet operation costs and also cater for more improvements expected in the public transport sector.
He said that the pre-COVID-19 fares had almost reached the 2-year cap and were about to be revised, in line with the current cost of transport.