Passengers and operators have expressed grave concerns over the recent hike in the service charge from N200 to N600 per passenger at the section of the Oshodi Terminal Interchange (OTI) occupied by long distance luxury bus transporters, which took effect from Thursday February 1.

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It was gathered at Terminal 1 where the luxury buses operate from, that the transporters are urging the Lagos State Government to rescind the upward review in view of the current harsh economic realities, even as the regular passengers insist they won’t pay the new charge.

Further checks at the busy inter-state terminal 1 on Thursday revealed that in reaction to the order by the firm managing the OTI – Planet Projects Limited, that the collection of the new service charge must take effect from February 1, the transporters have not been loading their buses at the terminal since Thursday.

One of the managers disclosed that they were waiting for directives from the bus owners who were said to be making efforts to convince the government to shelve the plan or, at least, ensure that the increase does not go higher than N400 – a N200 increase.

He described the new N2000 service charge for luxury bus passengers as “very unfair” and “discriminatory,” because “other inter-state buses, especially those belonging to the members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), are still paying only N200.”

He stated that there is no way the Lagos State Government could justify imposing a heavy burden on passengers by collecting N2000 service charge immediately after the subsidy palliative.

“It is like giving the public palliative with the right hand and taking it back with the left,” he lamented.

Intending passengers who heard of the impending hike on Wednesday had openly voiced their complaints, wondering why the Lagos State Government would think of such a sharp upward review at a time Nigerians are groaning under the weight of economic hardship.

They vowed to resist the increase, adding, however, that if the Lagos State Government goes on to impose the new charge, they would look for alternative transport services.

Some of the passengers threatened to start using other terminals and loading stations belonging to private long distance bus transporters for their travels and goods movement.

“If the increase stands, what is likely to happen is that the fare paid by the man who enters a luxury bus at Oshodi will be higher by N2000 than the fare paid by the passenger travelling to the same destination from Jibowu or any other terminal or station in Lagos,” a passenger explained.

“So, tell me why travellers must continue to come to the Oshodi terminal where Ithey will be charged higher?” another agitated intending traveller who gave his name as Chuka Anaebonam, asked, arguing that he had just been charged N100 for making use of the toilet.

“Now, look at that: You are imposing exorbitant service charge and at the same time you are collecting N100 from the same passengers. Is that not exploitation and double taxation?” he asked.

The likely consequence of the sharp increase, according to another passenger, Valentine Okoro, who was Onitsha-bound, is that the Oshodi terminal would be deserted, because if the passengers refuse to pay, the bus owners would be forced to take their vehicles elsewhere for loading.

Neither the leadership of the luxury bus owners association nor the management of Planet Projects could be reached for their comments, but a staff of the latter (Planet Projects) who spoke on phone, confirmed that the increase from N600 to N2,000 took effect February 1.

An infuriated manager who identified himself as Okey Transport and recorded his angry view in a voice note, warned that if the increase is implemented, it would scare away passengers from the Oshodi terminal

Okey Transport recalled in the recorded message, “Just last year, OTI increased the service charge from N250 to the present N600. We allowed it to stand. And I remember that I warned that if we accept it, they would soon raise it to N2,000. If we don’t resist this N2000 now, very soon, they will raise it further to N3000.”

He disclosed that the Lagos State Government makes not less than N3 million from the presence of the luxury bus transporters daily, including collecting money from passengers for using the toilet, arguing that an increase in service charge is unnecessary.

In a formal letter of protest signed by the President of the Association of Luxury Bus Owners of Nigeria (ALBON), Mr. Nonso Ubajaka, and addressed to the Managing Director, Planet Project Limited, titled ‘Protest Against Imposition of 333% Exhorbitant Increase In Access Charge Payable Per Passenger At the OTI from N600 to N2000’, and copied to the relevant state government agencies, ALBON said “Our members currently operating at the OTI are finding it extremely difficult to survive in the face of escalating costs of business operations at the OTI.

“For instance, while the OTI presently is collecting N600 per passenger as access charge, the same OTI Management is unconscionably demanding that the same passenger should pay N100 each time he or she uses the toilet facilities at the OTI.

“ALBON also argues that since transport fares are elastic in demand,virtually all our prospective passengers will choose to go to other zones or branches in Lagos State where there is no exorbitant access charge.

“The effect is that passengers’ patronage at the OTI will be drastically reduced to a low level of about 20 or 25 passengers in a bus with 51 or 59 loading capacity.

“Finally, in light of the issues we have raised above, we earnestly appeal to you to reconsider your imposition of N2000 as the new access charge per passenger at the OTI.

“We strongly believe that the N800 access charge per passenger we have offered is fair and reasonable in the circumstances and the only way we can survive and remain in business to render our services to the travelling masses of the citizens of Lagos State.”