Bus operators stage protest after police crackdown against overchargingSome transport operators in Kathmandu had unilaterally hiked the fares a few days ago arguing that the fares have not been increased for a long time.
After traffic police started booking public transport operators for overcharging the passengers, some transport operators on Monday morning staged a protest along the Ring Road in the Capital by parking their buses on the road and blocking traffic for three hours.
The Metropolitan Traffic Police Division said it has deployed plainclothes police who booked a total of 201 public vehicles over the past three days for overcharging the passengers. Public transport operators in Kathmandu had unilaterally hiked the fares a few days ago arguing that the fares have not been increased for a long time.
And the traffic police have launched a crackdown against overcharging bus operators. “We started monitoring public vehicles from Friday after receiving complaints from passengers that they were charged excess fares,” said Superintendent of Police Saroj Sharma Das, also spokesperson of the Division.
He said bus operators were charging Rs 20 and Rs 30 for different distances in the Capital when the actual fares fixed by the government are Rs 15 and Rs 20 respectively.
“On Monday also we had started our drive from 6:30 am but from 7 am bus operators started blocking the road by parking over 500 buses on the service lanes,” said Das. Bus operators who were in their hundreds had blocked the service lanes at Sukedhara, Chabahil, Gaushala, Koteshwar, Satdobato and Kalanki among other sections of the Ring Road causing travel chaos for commuters.
Das, however, said they didn’t fine any of the buses on Monday but the buses were detained briefly and made to return the fares to the passengers.
In July second week Sher Bahadur Deuba administration had assigned the Department of Transport Management to allow transport entrepreneurs to jack up bus fares on inter-provincial routes by a sharp 28 percent. In the decision the Cargo carriers serving routes in the Terai and hills were permitted to hike freight charges by 26 and 20 percent, respectively.
The last time transport fares went up was in September 2018 when the government decreed a flat 10 percent hike.
Bus operators’ overcharging passengers is not a new thing, during the Covid-19 pandemic, vehicles overcharging passengers on the pretext of restriction or prohibitory rule was a pervasive phenomena.
This time, police said a private bus operator known as Kathmandu Samyukta Yatayat Sanchalan Pvt Ltd had unilaterally hiked transport fares and pasted on its public vehicles forcing passengers to pay the new fares. When the Post tried to approach the company nobody was available for comments.
Yogendra Karmacharya, chairman of the Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs, however, said no bus operator under the federation has hiked the fares.
“We are also demanding that the government hike the fares but we don’t hike fares unilaterally, as that would be illegal,” said Karmacharya. He said the federation is in talks with the federal government to hike bus fares.
Consumer activists, meanwhile, denounced the unilateral move by some transport operators to hike the fares as unlawful. They said it is illegal to burden the pandemic-hit public with price increases.
Jyoti Baniya, chairperson of the Forum for Consumers’ Rights, Nepal said the recent unilateral hike by some transport operators shows the country is heading to become a lawless state.
“Some transport operators are acting in violation of the law. This is a crime and they must be punished, or else Nepal will become a failed state,” fumed Baniya.
Meanwhile, the transport regulator, the Department of Transport Management under the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, has also criticised the unilateral hiking of transport fares as illegal saying it has not permitted fare hike for short-distance travel. “Transport operators have long been pressuring the government to increase the fares, but after a meeting with the chief district officer of Kathmandu and other stakeholders, we decided not to hike the fares,” said Namaraj Ghimire, director general of the department.
“They must obey the law and refrain from making unilateral decisions. Those violating the law will face action,” said Ghimire. He said his office had written to the Metropolitan Traffic Division last week to start booking overcharging buses.