Fri, 30 Nov 2001

Minister says bus fares hike is final

Fitri Wulandari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

An agreement between legislators and the government to raise intercity bus fares during the upcoming holiday season by 12 percent has caused an uproar as the government insisted that the decision was final, while bus operators continued to demand more.

Minister of Transportation Agum Gumelar reiterated on Thursday that the decision on the 12 percent bus fare increase was already final as it had gone through a series of discussions and all intercity bus companies had to abide by the decision.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting, Agum warned the bus companies to continue serving the public over the Idul Fitri, Christmas and New Year holidays and not to strike due to their dissatisfaction with the fare increase.

"It's a final decision and the government will closely supervise its implementation," Agum said, adding that the government would impose heavy penalties on those violating the ruling.

Agum, a former commander of the Army's Special Force (Kopassus), also urged the Organization of Land Transportation Owners (Organda) to accept the decision and not participate in any strike action.

The temporary 12 percent increase in intercity bus fares, known as 'Tuslah', is lower than the original government proposal of 20 percent. In comparison, fares were raised by 25 percent last year.

The initial proposal was revised because Organda had already increased bus fares in July by up to 20.5 percent to compensate for an increase in the price of fuel.

The temporary increase aims to compensate companies for the empty seats on return trips to Jakarta and other major cities after having transported people to their home towns to celebrate the Idul Fitri holiday.

In practice, however, passengers are often forced to pay more than the official price stipulated by the government.

Organda chairman G.T. Soerbakti strongly criticized the government ruling, saying the small increase would prevent bus operators from providing good services to passengers.

"We're very shocked with the decision. We ask that the government review the decision," he said, adding that the increase should be nearer to 35 percent.

"But whatever decision the government takes we cannot avoid and have to comply with it," Soerbakti told The Jakarta Post.

He explained that the bus operators are badly in need of fare increases during such long holidays because they will be forced to spend a lot more money on operational expenses.

"The biggest portion of expenditure will be on extra pay for both the drivers and mechanics, who will all work overtime during the holidays," Soerbakti said.

"Whenever the intercity bus operators have not been able to meet substantially increasing demand for seats, we used to ask the Jakarta city bus operators to provide spare buses. However, I am afraid they will be reluctant to respond to our request this year due to the small amount of income they will receive," Soerbakti remarked.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Consumer Foundation (YLKI) urged bus operators to pay attention to customers' interests despite the lower than expected bus fare hike.

"It is their social responsibility to serve the public's interest," YLKI executive secretary Retno Widiastuti said.

A higher increase will further burden consumers, Retno said.