The train commute for local commuters was an affordable one with all its shortcomings up until the recent fare hike, causing a severe strain on the purse and making train travel expensive business. The public bore the inconveniences while taking a train ride with fortitude as for one thing although on occasion they did not come on schedule and office trains were sardine packed, the public were willing to stomach all this because the daily commute was indeed affordable! However, did the recent rise in railway fares leave the public defenceless in the face of rising costs because it did not follow the Cabinet decision?
Due to the significant increase in fuel prices, the Government was compelled to increase Sri Lanka Railway’s revenue to maintain a satisfactory service. As a result, on 27 June, the Cabinet of Ministers approved a revision to the rail fares for passenger, freight, and postal transport to minimise losses.
On 23 July, a 60 per cent increase in rail fares above the present rate was put into effect to meet rising train costs. However, following the price hike, both the trade unions and the public expressed grave concerns about the lack of sufficient public notification and not adhering to the Cabinet decision.
In the midst of Sri Lanka’s deepening economic crisis, the Railways Department, which suffers a daily loss of Rs 100 million and railway fares were updated after nearly two decades and Cabinet gave its nod for the hike.
The recommendation to this effect was made by Transport Minister Bandula Gunawardena, who noted that while other levies, such as those for goods and postal transport, have not grown in the previous 14 years, train ticket fares have not increased in the last five years.
However, the required Gazette Notification announcing the hike in train fares was planned to go into effect on 12 June but was delayed indefinitely, most likely due to the shortage of paper.
The Railway’s loss will drop by Rs 6,000 million, thanks to the fare hike, according to Dhammika Jayasundara, General Manager of Sri Lanka Railways, and its fuel costs will dip by Rs 12,000 million. According to Jayasundara, the present railway ticket costs are roughly 20 per cent of the current bus fares and as a result, the Railway Department will lose almost Rs 30 million a day.
The minimum train ticket fare was raised from Rs 10 to Rs 20 as per the Gazette Notification issued in this regard, and the amended train ticket prices took effect on 23 July. The prices for freight transportation were also raised at the same time as passenger rail fares.
A first-class passenger is charged Rs 10.40, a second-class passenger is charged Rs 5.20, and a third-class passenger is charged Rs 2.60 in Zone 1 (from 0 km to 10 km). A Zone 2 first-class passenger will pay Rs 9.60, a second-class passenger Rs 4.80, and a third-class passenger Rs 2.40 for travel between 10+ km and 50 km. Zone 3 charges are Rs 6.80 for first-class travel between 50 and 100 km, Rs 3.40 for second-class travel, and Rs 1.70 for third-class travel. Zone 4 charges are Rs. 5.60 for first-class travel between 100+ km and 200 km, Rs 2.80 for second-class travel, and Rs 1.40 for third-class travel and Zone 5: From 200 kilometres and beyond, first-class passengers must pay Rs 4.40, second-class travellers Rs 2.20, and third-class travellers Rs 1.10 for ever kilometre a commuter travels by rail.
The minimum train fare will therefore be Rs 100 for first class, Rs 50 for second class, and Rs 20 for third class. The platform fare is Rs 20.
Contrary to Gazette
However, the Sri Lanka Station Masters Union (SLSMU) initially objected to the price increase, arguing that adequate notice was required to inform passengers about the fare revision and that less than a day was insufficient to effectively complete the accounting and related tasks at the stations, causing both the station masters’ and the passengers’ significant inconvenience.
Then they asserted that the railway authorities had raised the train fares by an amount greater than that which the Cabinet had approved. For instance, the cost, which was formerly Rs 15, was raised to Rs 40, and the SLSMU asserted that the percentage increase was 125 per cent.
On 23 July, railway authorities subsequently stopped issuing tickets.
SLSMU General Secretary, Kasun Chamara asserted that they have no issues with increasing the price of the train tickets up to a certain point in comparison to the cost of fuel, but they did warn that if passengers are not informed in a timely manner, there may be issues between station masters and passengers when it comes to charging new fares.
“The Railway Department has declared that the claim that the fare revision will increase by 60 per cent is obviously untrue and will deceive commuters. The current revision has increased the fare from Rs 15 to Rs 40, a 125 per cent increase. Additionally, the administration has chosen to raise the new fare between a few railway stations by 350 per cent. According to the relevant equations, the new season ticket fee under the new rates is Rs 960. There is a standard equation for the season ticket fee according to the usual ticket fee, and the season ticket fee was Rs. 360 for a ticket with the normal price of Rs 15,” he said.
New fare hike percentage wise
According to data obtained, a first-class passenger travelling the 15.541 km from Fort to Ragama railway station previously only had to pay Rs 80; however, following the fare revision, the passenger is now required to pay Rs 200, representing a Rs 120 increase and a 150 per cent percentage increase.
However, a second-class passenger travelling the 15.541 km from Fort to Ragama railway station previously only had to pay Rs 40; however, following the fare revision, the passenger is now required to pay Rs 100, representing a Rs 60 increase and a 150 per cent percentage increase. The same traveller will now be required to pay Rs 40 for third class travel instead of the previous Rs 25; this is an increase of Rs 15 or 60 per cent.
First-Class travellers previously paid only Rs 40 for the 1.895 km ride from Fort to Maradana but now they must pay Rs 100, which is an increase of Rs 60 and is a 150 per cent percentage increase.
However, a person travelling Second Class now has to pay Rs 50 as opposed to the earlier Rs 20.
This is a 15 per cent increase. If the same passenger chooses to travel Third Class, he would now be required to pay Rs 20, up from the previous Rs 10, which is a 100 per cent increase.
A first-class traveller from Fort to Badulla earlier paid Rs 860; however, after the tariff revision, the traveller now has to pay Rs 1,800, which is an increase of Rs 940 and is a 109.30 percent increase percentage wise.
However, Second-Class travellers have to pay Rs 900 instead of the earlier Rs 490, which amounts to an increase of Rs 410 and is an 83.67 per cent hike. The cost of travelling Third Class will increase by Rs 185, or by 67.27 per cent, to Rs 460 from the earlier Rs 275.
The SLSMU, however, called off its strike last Sunday in response to the arbitrarily increased fares.
We found that the exact cost of the rail trip, however, was unknown to commuters and schoolchildren who travelled to Colombo and other capital towns.
According to a father of two, they paid 25 for a single journey, but now they must spend Rs 120. But the face value on the ticket however is the former train fare. Commuters complain that no notice board installed in any railway station had notified the fare hike. The procedure they say had increased by 100 per cent and they were severely inconvenienced because they were unaware of the price increase.
BY Thameenah Razeek