Vietnam inspects transport fares amid pricing criticism

By Manh Quan - Dinh Muoi, Thanh Nien News

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 A bus station in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Diep Duc Minh
The Ministry of Transport will start investigating transport companies around the country following allegations that they refuse to lower their fares despite recent sharp cuts in fuel prices. 
Under an order issued by the ministry on Monday, local transport departments are supposed to report on fare reductions at transport companies and provide names of those who have not adjusted their fares. 
The inspections are expected to finish by October 20.
Vietnamese authorities have adjusted fuel retail prices 11 times this year, including four hikes.
Since June 19, prices have been reduced five times. With the latest adjustment on September 3, popular gasoline grade RON-92 now retails at VND17,338 (76 US cents) per liter, down 24.3 percent from January.
Local transport companies, including taxis, have been widely criticized for being quick to raise their fares when fuel prices increased, but slow to act, or not acting at all, when fuel prices were cut. 
Nguyen Manh Hung, vice chairman of the Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association, told a conference on Tuesday that with millions of people using transport services, businesses can make a huge profit if they hold on to old fares. 
In theory, taxi passengers should be given a price cut of between VND594-884 per kilometer after the latest fuel price change. 
Many taxi companies, however, claimed that changing fares costs them money and requires resetting meters, Hung said, adding that they hardly made these excuses when they raised fares. 
He said businesses might be working together to keep fares at high levels across the industry. 
'Considerably' high
Nguyen Tien Thoa, an official in charge of pricing issues at the Ministry of Finance, said although several taxi companies have recently lowered fares, Vietnam's taxi fares are still "considerably" higher than those in other Southeast Asian countries.
In Singapore, one of the world's most expensive places, the average fare is 55 Singapore cents (38.5 US cents) per kilometer, while it is VND11,000-13,900 (48.3-61 US cents) per kilometer in Hanoi and VND14,500-15,500 (63.6-68 US cents) per kilometer in Ho Chi Minh City, he said.
In Bangkok, Manila and Jakarta, the fares are even cheaper, between 16.6-27.8 US cents per kilometer.
Thoa did not compare fuel prices between the countries. 
Although businesses need to be given freedom to adjust their prices to compete with one another, they should not be let "do whatever they want," Thoa said, asking the government to step in, if businesses fail to make adjustments on their own.
And, those which "unreasonably" charge customers must be punished, he said.

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