Drivers and owners of buses operating on a key route in Ho Chi Minh City went on strike for a few hours Tuesday to demand higher subsidies from the city.
Eight buses refused to ply on the Mien Tay – Nga Tu Ga route from 4:30 a.m. after coming to know about the subsidy rate late the previous day, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded.
In Vietnam, private owners can sign up for city bus systems with their fares fixed and a subsidy from the city. The subsidies, calculated on a trip basis and for drivers’ monthly salaries, are meant to promote the use of public transport by keeping fares low.
Ho Chi Minh City, with its nine million population, has nearly 3,000 buses operating from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Huynh Phi Hai, who has four buses plying on the route, said he has been operating with his own money and a subsidy advance without knowing the exact subsidy rate.
On Monday the Public Transport Management and Operation Center announced that the subsidy for 2015 is VND77,000 per trip (US$3.5) and a monthly VND2 million ($90) per driver.
“We are making a loss with such low subsidies. We have taken loans, hoping to get enough subsidy to cover the expenses,” Hai said.
Forty buses operate on the 25-km route, making a total of 264 trips daily, with a ticket costing a flat VND2,000 for students and VND6,000 for others.
Bus owners said the subsidy per trip used to be VND159,000 in 2012 before being reduced gradually.
Van, another bus operator, said many people pay drivers VND400,000 a day and assistants VND220,000, and a subsidy of VND2 million is too low.
“We are facing serious difficulties. Apart from paying drivers and assistants, we are also paying a number of other expenses, not to mention a fine of VND200,000 if a bus arrives more than five minutes late,” she said.
Lam Van Phan, chairman of the Viet Thang Cooperative that represents bus owners on the route, said he has repeatedly urged city authorities not to reduce the drivers’ subsidy, but to no avail.
But he urged bus owners to continue operating while keeping up their complaints.
Buses resumed operations at around 8 a.m. the same day.