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Fixed public transport fares in Homs warns of drivers’ strike

The Directorate of Land Transport in Homs province, September 2019 (SANA)

The Directorate of Land Transport in Homs province, September 2019 (SANA)

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Homs – Orwah al-Mundhir

The ongoing collapse in the Syrian Pound’s value against foreign currencies led to a dramatic increase in the transport maintenance cost. Meanwhile, transportation fares remained fixed under the pretext of stabled fuel prices, threatening drivers’ livelihoods in central Syria’s Homs province.

Mass transportation of Homs province is fully administered by the Syrian Ministry of Transport, in terms of determining fares and routes.

Syria’s Transport Ministry determines the fares after measuring the traveled distances and the depreciation cost for the means of transport, taking into account citizens’ incomes.

The ministry monopolizes internal transport contracts between provinces at times, and at other times it grants licenses to operating companies owned by influential and powerful figures in the Syrian cities.

The suffering of public transport drivers

The routes’ managers in northern Homs countryside tried to adjust the fares of roads and routes under their supervision; however, the Directorate of Transport in Homs repeatedly refused their proposals.

This led them to impose a new fare without the city’s Directorate of Transport’s permission.

“All prices are rising except those of transportation fares; they remain fixed.” With this phrase, Muhammed al-Youssef recounted his suffering caused by the fixed fares of public conveyances, the only source of livelihood for al-Youssef being a minibus driver on the “Homs-al-Houla” road.

According to al-Youssef, the Directorate of Transport in Homs set the fare of Kafr Laha- Homs road at 125 Syrian pounds (SYP = 0.039 USD), after it was 150 (SYP = 0.047 USD).

He also compared the current food prices with the stabled prices of fares. Al-Youssef said that nowadays, the price of 1 liter of cooking oil is sold at the price of 1,900 (SYP = 0.598 USD), while the price was 350 (SYP = 0.11 USD) when the mass transport fare was 150 (SYP = 0.047 USD).

In the meantime, the value of the Syrian Pound is fluctuating repeatedly against foreign currencies, days after some improvement on its exchange rate, in conjunction with the regime’s government’s measures to prevent a further decline in the Syrian Pound’s value.

According to the “Syrian Pound Today,” a website specialized in currency exchange rates, the exchange rate of the Syrian Pound repeatedly fluctuated after the Eid al-Fitr holiday, as the US dollar’s exchange rate reached 1,860 SYP on 28 May in Damascus, and 1,920 SYP in Idlib province.

Later the Syrian Pound dropped to a lower rate of 1,840 in Damascus and 1,880 in Idlib against the US dollar.

Warnings of a strike

According to al-Youssef, the demands of city road managers include raising the transport fare to 200 (SYP = 0.063 USD) to secure the livelihood of drivers.

The earnings of one minibus are often divided between the driver and the minibus owner according to a previous agreement between the two sides.

Nevertheless, al-Youssef warned of a possible strike by drivers in case the fares’ prices remained fixed. He said the strike would force citizens to resort to taxis whose fare for the shortest distance is no less than 500 (SYP = 0.156USD).

Muhammed, a government employee at the center of Homs province, understands drivers’ demands; however, as a daily passenger on the road, he wondered “how is it possible to pay 15,000 (SYP = 4.688 USD) for transportation while I earn a salary of no more than 54,000 (SYP = 14USD), what will remain of it to provide a living?”

High maintenance and spare parts’ prices

Transport maintenance and spare parts’ prices have risen in an unprecedented way as the Syrian Pound’s value has fallen against the US dollar.

The price of engine oil has risen 100 percent at the regime’s government’s Syrian Company for Storage and Distribution of Petroleum Products (SADCOP).

According to Yasser, a minibus driver on the Talbiseh-Homs road, all spare parts, and engine oil prices have risen, besides the wages of auto mechanics that doubled recently.

Yasser says that he cannot continue working as a driver in the light of the continuous price increase of transport maintenance.

Yasser highlighted the importance of vehicles’ maintenance by saying to Enab Baladi that “the minibus cannot be neglected, it needs maintenance regularly because, in case of an accident, God forbid, there will be a great loss of human lives.”

The increased price of maintenance is due to the high cost of spare parts from major distribution stores allocated for the distribution of maintenance parts, according to Khaled Zino, a mechanic who works in a shop on the international road between Homs and Hama provinces.

Zino installs spare parts and earns his living according to the price agreed upon with the vehicle’s owner, which is often 7 percent of the spare parts’ price.

The high prices of engine oil are due to the government’s decision that has no relation to the maintenance shops, according to what Zino said to Enab Baladi.

During nine years of war in Syria, the public transport sector in Homs province has been damaged by the dismemberment of the city’s geographically-floated areas of armed conflict between the opposing parties.

The Syrian regime forces targeted the main transportation lines in the opposition controlled-areas between 2013 and 2018.

While the International Coalition Forces (ICF) and Russian warplanes targeted cargo vehicles in 2018, which used to cross areas of the Badia of Homs, heading east to the so-called “the Islamic State (IS)” organization held areas.

 

 

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