Police have confirmed that a total of five people were arrested during a protest on Hulhumale’ yesterday (June 14), held to raise concerns over an increase in the price of bus fares on the island.
Three males, one female and a minor remain in custody today after they were charged with offences including failing to obey instructions and breaking past police lines during the demonstration. Demonstrators reportedly highlighted a number of concerns, including a decision to raise the cost of tickets on the Hulhumale’ bus service from MVR 2.25 (US$0.15) to MVR 3 (US$0.19).
The protest, which began at 3:00pm yesterday afternoon and ended roughly three hours later, coincided with efforts by the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) to introduce new larger buses on the island, Sun Online reported.
Ismail Fariq, an executive for MTCC’s Transport Department said today that the new buses represented an MVR 8.6 million (US$558,000) investment by the company in an effort to provide a “total improvement” in service for passengers by offering air conditioning and more seating.
“The existing buses that we have been using are almost broken down, but these new buses we hope will offer a new benchmark in public transportation services,” he said.
With the new buses coming into service yesterday, Fariq said that passengers would be able to use the buses for free until tomorrow, when the new MVR 3 fare would be implemented.
He said the increased fare was essential to cover the company’s investment in the new vehicles.
“This increase in quality comes with the change in price,” Fariq argued. “As a business we need a reasonable return on investment and I do not believe that 75 laari is a big change for these improvements.
Demonstrators opposed to the increase nonetheless yesterday gathered in the area of Hulhumale’ where the new bus service was scheduled to be introduced to voice their concerns. They also demanded improvements to the ferry boat service presently operating between Hulhumale’ and the capital, according to local media.
Improvements to the ferry service were a much more pressing consumer issue than the provision of air conditioned buses in Hulhumale’, the protesters said according to Sun Online. The criticisms were first made after the state-owned MTCC purchased four new vehicles last month.
The company was quoted in local media at the time as claiming the news vehicles would allow it to increase the capacity of daily bus passengers on Hulhumale’ from 8,000 to 10,000 people, as well as expanding the number of services it offered on the island.
In January this year the MTCC announced it would begin charging a six percent Goods and Services Tax (GST) on all ferry and bus services that it operates as required by the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA).
The cost of a ticket for a single journey on the Hulhumale’ bus was as a result increased to MVR 2.12 at the time.