After increasing its fares barely a year ago, Primero Transport Services Limited is planning another BRT fare hike, citing inflation and scarce forex. But commuters would hear none of that, writes ONYEKORMAKA ASABOR
On Sunday, May 2, 2021, the Managing Director of Primero Transport Services Limited, operator of the Bus Rapid Transit in Lagos, Mr Fola Tinubu, disclosed to the News Agency of Nigeria that inflation and the company’s constraint to access foreign exchange to import vehicle parts had been a challenge in the company’s effort to refurbish its faulty buses for quality services.
Not only did Tinubu make the disclosure about the challenges facing the firm, he emphasised that the firm had been struggling in the last six years to make ends meet, and lamented that Lagos State Government’s regulation on fares neither took cognisance of inflation nor thought of how the company could be benefiting from subsidy. He said the challenges facing the organisation frustrated its revenue-generating effort.
Inflation and govt interference
He said, “The cost of spare parts keeps galloping. The price of diesel alone has gone up by almost 41 per cent between January and April end. A litre of diesel we bought late last year about N181.90 is between N255 and N258 now. This means our cost is going up. Government cannot cap our revenue-generating ability (by fixing fares) and leave our cost to keep galloping. It’s a recipe for disaster.
“Also, we want to import vehicle parts, so we can fix our faulty buses. But the CBN says it doesn’t have forex for spare parts. The reality is that if the cost keeps going up and naira keeps losing its value, our cost will shoot up because we do not manufacture anything in this country. With this situation, it will be hard to provide a world-class transport system.”
According to him, if the inflation continues, coupled with CBN’s inability to provide forex at the official rate, Primero, which has about 2,000 workers on its payroll, may be forced to take austerity measures, especially on staff strength.
Will Lagos wade in?
To this end, Tinubu pleaded with Lagos government to either give Primero a free hand to operate or provide subsidy, as done in other countries with BRT services.
He warned, “God forbid, if anything happens to Primero, the (yellow) commercial bus drivers are going to be charging as high as N1,000 as transport fare per passenger from Ikorodu to Tafawa Balewa Square (on Lagos Island) and people will have no choice than to pay.
“I fully understand the plight of the masses because all over the world, people spend between 15 per cent and 25 per cent of their income on transportation; but in Nigeria, it is between 50 per cent and 75 per cent. For somebody who has spent between 50 per cent and 75 per cent of his or her income on transportation, if you want to increase fare by N50, he will oppose it. But the question is, how do we make it work?”
Alluding to the local parlance of ‘good things cost money,’ the transporter asserted that a world-class service had to be paid for.
“The employees and suppliers have to be paid,” he added.
The Primero boss said the price of vehicle parts imported within the last eight months by the firm had increased with about N400m because the naira was exchanging then for 360/$1.
He, however, said the firm was restructuring and looking inward, to continue providing more efficient service every commuter would relish.
Against the foregoing, respondents engaged by Financial Street were of the view that it would be too early for Primero to start thinking of fare increase, given that the transport company had, barely a year ago, increased its fares across all routes.
On another increase in BRT fares, a civil servant, Marcus Ojeifo, urged Primero not to attempt it.
“They should not try it. It is not up to a year that they increased their fares. It would be an act of wickedness to Lagosians, as there is no corresponding increase in salary, and the economy has not been that robust for those in various businesses to make profit.”
He called on Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu not to approve any proposal to that effect because doing that would amount to disservice to those that voted for him.
“The transport company should look inward to avoid another increase in fares of its buses,” he suggested.
A company driver, Mr Akin Adeleye, said, “Increasing the fare at this time will be totally unfair. Nobody is having a good time, as the country is presently faced with so much hardship that people are managing to survive.”
For Timothy Sadoh, “Except the operators of the BRT buses want to tell Nigerians that they are monopolistic or they want to tell Lagosians that they are not disposed to fair practice, I believe the business is viable at the prevailing fares due to the untenable principle of monopoly, as the single largest transport system in the heart of Lagos.
“To this end, I will simply advise the management of Primero and the Lagos government not to think of increase of BRT fares for now, irrespective of the challenges they are facing. BRT ought to be a purveyor of social services in the transport sector of Lagos economy.”
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