Bus operators:disposable cards loophole must be addressed

In recent weeks the Consumer Council of Fiji has been vocal in demanding that bus drivers carry disposable electronic ticketing cards, citing the Electronic Fare Ticketing (Omnibus) (Amendment) Regulations 2017.

Those regulations make it compulsory for bus operators to provide disposable e-transport cards for sale on its buses, failing which a spot fine of $1000 is imposed on both the bus operator and the driver.

The Council’s chief executive, Premila Kumar, in her public statements has pushed the point that it is the responsibility of bus operators to ensure their drivers carry these disposable cards without addressing the issue at the heart of bus operators’ concerns.

Members of the Fiji Bus Operators Association have become increasingly alarmed in recent weeks at the growing trend of abuse by some passengers taking advantage of the disposable card regulation by expecting drivers to have change when they present high denomination notes for low denomination cards.

With electronic ticketing supposedly creating a cashless system, drivers are no longer expected to handle cash – except through the loophole created by the disposable card requirement. Drivers often do not have enough cash to provide change, especially for high denomination notes. And when drivers are unable to provide change, passengers expect to travel free.

Electronic ticketing is now into its fifth month and in general the travelling public has become accustomed to topping up their registered electronic ticketing cards as part of their daily lives. And contrary to what Premila Kumar claims, people living in rural areas appear to have adapted fast to topping up their electronic cards before travelling and thereby not requiring disposable cards.

The Fiji Bus Operators Association is of the view that bus drivers should not be burdened with the requirement to carry disposable cards or cash for change.

According to the Omnibus Electronic Fare Ticketing (Budget Amendment) 35 of 2017 disposable cards can be purchased from a “solution provider”, a “top up issuing agent” or a bus driver. However, only bus operators and drivers are subjected to a fixed penalty of $1000, and if this penalty and a late payment fee are not paid within the specified time, a bus operator faces a fine of up to $5000 on conviction. This is patently unfair.

When disposable cards were designed, it was intended for tourists and people living in the outer islands who visit the main islands. It was not meant for regular passengers who use bus services daily. Regular passengers are expected to travel using their registered electronic ticketing cards.

Since e-transport was introduced, about 650,000 electronic ticketing cards have been issued free of charge to the public. Instead of attacking bus operators, Premila Kumar could play an important role in educating the public to use of their registered cards instead of focusing on the sale of disposable cards on buses. If the passengers used their registered cards instead of relying on disposable cards, many of these problems would be resolved.

Bus operators want a completely cashless system on buses. If the law needs to be changed to make this happen then it should.

This problem needs urgent attention as drivers are being abused by the travelling public, some have been missing work and some have resigned. There is already a shortage of drivers and the abuse faced by them is further compounding the problem.

FBOA wants the removal of this requirement, so disposable cards are instead retailed through top-up agents, community stores, canteens and all other locations where mobile phone top-up can be purchased.

The Association has raised the problem with Office of the Attorney-General and is hoping for a positive outcome.

Fiji Bus Operators Association Admin