April 22, 2005
Fueling debate

These past two weeks have seen raging debate over proposed increases in minibus fares on one hand and on the other by the rising cost of electricity service. What both debates have in common is that they are both generated by the cost of fuel, fuelled (excuse the redundancy) by external forces over which we have very little control.

Oil prices have been soaring since the 1970s and since the war on Iraq has worsened to the point that there is no economy which has escaped its effects. In some countries, the increased costs have driven some concerns completely out of business causing loss of employment. {{more}}

Here, we have never exercised any control in a real way over the way we use fuel. We operate in an ad hoc manner we call free enterprise with the transportation sector totally unplanned, disorganized. We have no public transportation in a real sense; instead what exists in a disparate group of persons who operate their private buses when and where they choose to with no genuine regard for the interest of the commuters. It is not unheard for an omnibus to begin a run along what the commuter may have come to recognize as a regular route and then turn around half-way along to return to their original point without completing the run. The operator may have not considered it worth the while to go the whole route for lack of passengers. Understandable one may say, but what happens to that worker or schoolchild who had planned to arrived at their destination at a particular time.

Similarly it is not unusual for one to be bypassed on a Sunday, public holiday or outside regular hours by what one recognized to be a “public” transport which happens to be just cruising their own private business. There are no regulations controlling where, when and how buses run, and no code of conduct.

It is here that the National Omnibus Association (NOBA) is a most welcome development. Theirs though is a most difficult task and one empathizes with their leadership which has been embarrassed by both some who claim to be their members and others who are just in the business for the hustle and may never become part of the organization. Their ability to bargain with the government for their demands from a position of strength is severely weakened. But at the root of the increases they seek is the impact of the rising cost of fuel on their operations.

So it is too for our power generating utility VINLEC. The fuel surcharge which the company is at pains to explain to us consumers is always going to be a point of contention. And though the company tried to prepare the public for the eventuality of a higher than usual bill for April, it hurts in the pocket.

The opportunity has been presented to us all though to approach finding creative solutions minimizing the impact of the world fuel crisis though unified discussion. Though the debate has tended to go along partisan lines at times, the realization stares us all in the fact that this is a battle we can only wage by pooling ideas and human resources together. Even if we were to discover fuel somewhere off shore, it is going to be a while before we will be able to exploit this resource to the point where it can bring us any real relief. We are in this boat together.