Controversy Over FG 50% Transport Discount As It Ends Today, RTEAN Says Operators Not Carried Along, “Passengers Says Its Not Working”
Controversy has continued to trail the implementation of the 50 per cent Federal Government discount for inter-state Travellers, as one of the foremost transport unions, the Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria, RTEAN, has said it was not carried along in the decision-making and implementation process.
This was as some travelers wondered if the policy actually worked in the nation’s capital, Abuja, saying their experiences showed otherwise, reports Vanguard.
President Bola Tinubu had on December 20, 2023, announced a 50 per cent discount on road transport travels across some designated routes from December 21, 2023, to Jan 4, 2024, and free train rides across the country.
Minister of Solid Minerals, Mr Dele Alake, who made the announcement on behalf of the president, had stated that the move was part of President Tinubu’s efforts at enhancing the well-being of Nigerians, especially during the festive season.
The travel routes captured in the programme include Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Owerri, Ibadan, Akure, Maiduguri, Sokoto, and other major inter-state transportation hubs.
Alake, who is the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on the implementation of the End of Year Transportation Subsidy Programme of the president had on Monday on his ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) handle, said over 160,000 passengers had benefitted from the initiative which ends tomorrow.
According to him, the initiative has been a huge success, with both the Nigeria Railway Corporation, NRC, and the Association of Luxury Bus Owners of Nigeria, ALBON, recording huge number of passengers.
“As the Chairman of the Committee on the Implementation of the End of Year Transportation Subsidy Programme of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, I am pleased to report that our program has been a tremendous success, benefiting over 160,000 passengers across the country”, he added.
A breakdown of the figures, according to the Committee chairman revealed that the Nigerian Railway Corporation NRC has ferried around 71,000 so far while the travelers conveyed under ALBON reached 77,122 during the period.
“I am proud to share that between December 21 and December 31, 2023, the NRC conveyed 71,000 passengers, while buses under ALBON carried 77,122 passengers”, he said.
However, as the initiative draws to an end, RTEAN, which was supposed to be one of the major middlemen in the implementation of this initiative, has denied any involvement in the process.
The General Secretary, RTEAN, Yusuf Ibrahim, who spoke with one of our correspondents over the telephone, said after the first closed door meeting held with the federal government, the Association had been in the dark, adding that FG sidelined them.
He said; “We have not been involved. At the initial stage, we were the people the government called and held meetings to discuss the modalities but as we speak, we have not signed any agreement with them and we are not doing so. That is the position of things.
“After we had a closed door meeting with the federal government, they said we were going to take off and we haven’t still taken off, so, if I am telling you otherwise, I am just deceiving you. I don’t know, maybe in the nearest future, they may consider involving us.
“We have been the frontrunner and we even brought the solution to the problem and advised them on how to go about it so that there will be proper accountability because we have a system, which is cashless where everybody will be on record, you will have proper records on what everyone is doing and in all 774 LGAs of the federation, so all these parts we suggested to them but we don’t know what criteria they put to make the decision they made.
“We even told them that all these transport operators are our members and if we are engaged, definitely, they will also be carried along.”
One of our correspondents who also visited some of the branches of these transport operators, observed that while they were not complying with the 50 per cent discount for Travellers, they also increased the cost of transport fares as compared to what it used to be about two weeks ago.
For example, the Young Shall Grow Motors, which is one of the official company identified by the federal government to implement the 50 per cent discount, increased its fares on its morning executive bus from Abuja to Owerri and Umuahia, which used to cost N35,100, to N38, 100, Abuja to Enugu, Onitsha which used to cost N35,100 to N38,100, while Abuja to Abia and Port-Harcourt which used to cost N40, 000 to N43,100.
Also, morning Hiace bus charges are: from Abuja to Port-Harcourt/Aba, N32,100 to N37,100, from Abuja to Owerri, Umuahia, N30,100, to N32, 100, while from Abuja to Enugu and Onitsha costs N29,100.
Our correspondent also observed that the only reduction was done for night Travellers. For instance, from Abuja to Lagos which used to be N26,100, but is now N24,100. From Abuja to Onitsha used to cost N22,100, but is now 21,100, Abuja to Owerri used to be N24,100, but is now N22,100 and Abuja to Abia and Port-Harcourt which used to be N26,100, but is now N24,100.
Speaking with one of the branch managers who preferred anonymity, he said: “Truth is we were not really carried along. I was not aware. People no longer trust the government. If they want to really do this type of thing from a sincere mind, there are better ways to do it. We can’t destroy our business to serve them. It is not done.
“For the implementation, I honestly don’t know how that is going. Maybe people who are superior to me will know about that but I don’t. All I know is that we reduced money for night Travellers for luxurious buses, so maybe that is what YSG did but I can’t say.”
Some of the passengers who spoke to our correspondent, denied benefiting from the 50 per cent subsidy.
Sunday Effiong, one of the Travellers at Young Shall Grow Motors, Abuja, said: “When my wife brought the information about this thing the government said they want to do, I just laughed because we have always known the kind of government we have. They speak from both sides of their mouths. You can see it, see what is boldly written there and we just asked the counter person who has denied that no 50 per cent discount is going on. So what are we saying?
“Well, maybe other Nigerians are benefiting from it but I have not. I am still paying very high for transport fare that used to be N8,000 to Lagos, which is now approximately N40,000 because they will still charge you for bags and all that. The government should stop all the watery promises. If truly they want to do this, there are better and matured ways to ease Nigerians of their pains.”
Another traveller, Ngozi Mercy, who was bound for Owerri, said: “The money that was given to me by the company to pay was what I paid. They didn’t tell me about any discount. Infact, there was no conversation about that.”
However, another traveller, Michael Momoh, said when he tried to book online was asked to pay the normal price, he had called a customer service representative of his chosen company who explained to him that he had to pay the normal amount at the point of booking, while he would be refunded half of that amount on getting to the destination terminal.
Also, during a visit to Utako park by our correspondent, drivers and passengers shared their experiences of the initiative.
A driver, Ezekiel Anayochukwu, commented on the short-lived success of the fare reduction on the Lagos / Enugu route.
“It didn’t work in the parks located in the FCT. The partnership only worked for about three days,” Anayochukwu said, referring to Jibowu and Festac Parks in Lagos.
Transitioning to the perspective of the passengers, Fred Mbanaso, who was purchasing a ticket at the counter, revealed his dissatisfaction with the policy.
“I just paid N33,000 for a trip to Awka in Anambra State,” Mbanaso stated, indicating a lack of confidence in the government’s fare reduction policy that began on December 21 and is slated to end on January 4.
Further investigations by this paper at another transport company in Jabi, Abuja, revealed that the fare reduction policy was somewhat successful for online bookings.
A management staff of the transport company confirmed “The policy is working well, but only for passengers who book online.”
However, attempts to access the online booking process firsthand were met with technical difficulties.
Upon selecting the Abuja-Awka route for January 3 on the company’s website, the reporter was faced with an unresponsive system and repeated messages from a virtual assistant, stating, “hang on for a second. I’m processing the information you just shared.”
The initiative, aimed at easing the financial burden of travellers during peak season, appears to be fraught with challenges.
What, however, proved to have worked better was the free train rides for Nigerians, even though it was gathered that many intending travellers had challenges booking on the Nigeria Railway Corporation NRC portal.
“Many of them besieged the train stations on Christmas Eve but without tickets. It was partly due to ignorance because the instruction was for travelers to have booked ahead via the online portal.
“They also reported technical glitches as people showed unprecedented interest in the free train rides. There were people who were not really traveling anywhere but who wanted to test the system and see if the rides were actually free. There were also those who booked, enjoyed the rides to another city and then came back to their original destinations again without having any real business to do in places they went”, said a security personnel in one of the train stations in Abuja.
One of our correspondents who also visited some of the branches of these transport operators, observed that while they were not complying with the 50 per cent discount for travellers, they also increased the cost of transport fares as compared to what it used to be about two weeks ago.