John Karangwa, a telephone operator in the city centre is one of the many passengers that have raised their voices over the increased transport fares. Transport fares have increased twice in the last few weeks.
At first, most people had taken the issue lightly hoping that it would not drag in to another month. But now, the situation is really bad. This has been worsened by the current scarcity of commuter taxis on roads especially during rush hours.
Karangwa says fuel crisis in the regional and the raised transport fares are common talk but the fact remains that most of the commuters are straining to afford the escalated transport fares.
“Walking is the only alternative to many Rwandans doing causal work in town and other suburbs”, Karangwa says.
“In the past, we used to travel at an affordable fare of Frw100 to and from the city centre to city suburb but now it’s almost doublem”, he adds.
Samuel Ndahimana, a business man in town says that there is evidence that higher fares have started deterring people from travelling by taxis.
“Whenever you’re in a taxi these days, numerous people are seen in groups two-five walking back home, unlike in the past.
“You can imagine a person who is tired from busy work schedule resorting to walk long- distances to his/her home because of unaffordable transport fares,” Ndahimana calls for government intervention.
He says that the average fare (150 to 175) increment by authorities in the transport sector is unrealistic though there is a fuel crisis in the whole region.
Marie Mukandinda, a resident of Kanombe says, it is very hard for her these days to go to her work place in Nyabugogo Taxi Park, because of the transport fare hike.
She says that before the hike, she could at least save Frw2000 per day, but now she only saves Frw750 yet she has to fend her two children. It’s unfortunate that the new fare hike is broadly supported by taxi owners and taxis drivers.
If any one pays keen attention during evening hours, passengers are always inclined to negotiate with conductors to take them at Frw100.
Fahad Ngarambe a taxi driver at Remera Taxi Park says that since that period when fuel prices increased in the country, they have been operating at losses and their families are starving.
“The slight increment put on transport fares has helped us a lot. We can now afford buying bread for our families. Passengers should be patient with us because it not of our making,” Ngarambe advises.
Recently, Rwanda Utility Regulatory Agency (RURA) approved the increase of transport fares countrywide.
In a telephone interview recently, Eugene Kivunangoma the Director of Transport department in RURA said that all commuter transport companies, both private and government owned had all legally increased their transport fares.
The companies include Atraco Express, Tebuka, ONATRACOM, Virunga Express and Volcanoes Express among others.
He said that transport fare in town had increased by Frw20 while up-country fares increased depending on the distance of the journey.
“It is regrettable that tax fares have been on the increase in the past few weeks, but these increase have been kept at list affordable to our passengers,” he said.
For example, travelling to Ruhengeri, fares have been increased from Frw 1300 to Frw 1,500 while travelling to and from Gisenyi increased from Frw 2,000 to Frw 2, 500 Kivunangoma said.
“We have no role in setting unregulated fares. We are trying to find the right balance between the tax operators and the passengers in covering the costs and the expense respectively,” he added.
He revealed that RURA, transport company owners, Kigali City Council (KCC) and government representatives were to meet and find solutions to the problem.
However, he was optimistic that ransport fares may fall once the current fuel prices decrease in the shortest time possible.
“I personally believe we need to keep the fares low but also we need to add more mini buses as a ways of improving the transport system to our passengers who always get stranded a long the car perks,” he said.
The head of the Commuter Transport Association (ATRACO) Colonel (Rtd) Dodo Twahirwa said that previous transport fares did not match the cost of fuel therefore it was necessary to increase them.
“This new fare increase would also help bus and tax drivers who are already struggling with the rising living costs, low wages and starvation-level welfare rates to up lift their standards of living,” he said.
Earlier this month, Twahirwa explained that there was scarcity of vehicles because taxi operators were frustrated with the regulated taxi fares which were not profitable at all.
He argued that standard taxi fares within Kigali city was Frw150 which was fixed when fuel cost was around Frw460 per litre but the price has gone up to Frw 726.
Public transport within Kigali is mainly by minibuses, which connect the city centre with several major suburbs such as Gatsata, Gisozi, Gikondo Kacyiru, Kabeza, Kicukiro, Kimisagara, Kimironko, Nyabugogo, Nyenyeri, Nyamirambo, and Remera-Giporoso.
The genesis of the problem
Political violence in Kenya is choking supplies of fuel and petroleum products to neighbouring countries and is likely to hit a swathe of East African Community from Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi to eastern Congo and southern Sudan.
Recently, the Minister of Commerce Protais Mitali confirmed in a press conference that the increase in fuel prices was brought about by the current civil violence in Kenya, which is the only Rwanda’s main transit route.
All countries get fuel from Kenyan ports, where business has been interrupted by the chaos that has followed the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki.
Recently, in Uganda’s capital Kampala, many cars stood abandoned by their owners on roadsides as petrol stations ran out of fuel supplies.