More bumps await PSVs ahead, warns bus firm boss
By Macharia Kamau
| August 17th 2021
The Public Service Vehicle sector has been one of the country’s industries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic that struck last year.
This was until last week when the government allowed operators to resume carrying passengers at full capacity, ending a more than a year-long directive to operate at half their capacity, which had seen about 50 per cent of employees in the sector sent home.
Easycoach Managing Director Azym Dossa spoke to Financial Standard on the impact of the pandemic on the sector and how his firm has had to radically rethink its business model.
How has the pandemic affected your operations and what changes have you made to cope?
The covid-19 pandemic has affected the passenger transport business in a number of ways. For starters, the 10pm to 4am curfew currently in force, has effectively killed more than half of our operations, as a significant number of our clients prefer to travel at night. As a consequence, we have had to send 50 per cent of our staff on unpaid leave. The services provided by PSVs are the source of livelihood for many families, which are currently without income and are suffering. Our loading capacity and revenues have shrunk, in tandem. The general spectre of gloom and loss is being felt within the entire passenger transport ecosystem and supply chain, with suppliers of fuel, stationery and spare parts equally feeling the brunt of the downturn. Against this backdrop, we have not renewed our fleet since December 2019, meaning that vendors who rely on our purchases are also suffering. An ageing fleet translates to spiraling repair costs and higher fuel consumption.
What needs to be done to kick-start the industy’s revival after the lifting of restrictions that had been in force since March last year?
Most significantly, the government should fast-track the ongoing vaccination drive against Covid-19, so that the free movement of people resumes as has been achieved in Europe and the US. Besides, unfettered travel will free the general population and allow it to resume normal business operations. This will, in turn, revive all sectors of the economy, including PSV transport. For long-distance PSV operators, the removal of the overnight curfew, in particular, will double their business throughput, in the process creating about twice the number of jobs that are currently available. Secondly, the government should look for ways of giving tax incentives to the industry.
What, in your opinion, will define the future of the sector?
The immediate future of the transport industry is bleak. Going forward, fleet operators have to improve their operational efficiencies through more efficient fuel usage and also by utilising available labour more optimally. Operators should also adopt good customer care policies and practices to attract new and retain existing customers, especially in the wake of emergent competition like the Standard Gauge Railway passenger train services.
What sort of policy changes would you wish to see besides being allowed to resume operating at full capacity?
PSVs are obviously poised to carry more people now. Hopefully, the fares will be reduced accordingly, despite the price of fuel increasing substantially since the advent of Covid-19. The industry’s obvious expectation is for the government to remove the curfew so that overnight inter-county PSV transport can resume. However, without mass vaccination of the general population, this prospect may come with an increased risk of infection by the novel coronavirus, which might provoke another round of shutdowns, curfews and travel restrictions, further dampening an already depressed economy and industry.
What do you need to succeed as a public transport operator?
Good customer care has been the secret to our success in the past. Despite the challenges brought about by Covid-19, we shall strive to uphold the highest customer care standards, going into the future.
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