Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Govt softens CNG price increase Transport operators end rallies after talks pledge

The government will increase the price of compressed natural gas as planned _ but just one time, on Jan 16, pending further talks with transport operators to consider whether the price should be increased more, Deputy Prime Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong says.
Operators of about 200 gas-fuelled trucks and buses protest against the compressed natural gas (CNG) price hike in front of the Energy Ministry yesterday, completely occupying the outer lane of Vibhavadi Rangsit Road and causing traffic chaos. THITI WANNAMONTHA
Mr Kittiratt said after a meeting with representatives of the transport sector yesterday that bus, truck and taxi operators had agreed to the planned CNG price hike of 50 satang per kilogramme on Jan 16.
"The plan to raise the CNG price by 50 satang a kilogramme [on Jan 16] still holds," he said. "But after a week or two, the government and the transport sector will still have time to meet again to consider whether the price should be increased for a second or third time."
He said the government and the transport sector will set up a joint committee to determine a suitable price for CNG in four months and that things should improve after that.
Mr Kittiratt apologised for the government's unclear message to transport operators and for not seeking their opinions before making the decision, which caused misunderstandings.
The meeting was held to resolve the dispute over the planned CNG price hike, which prompted transport operators to protest yesterday and demand the government delay the planned price increase.
Miserable passengers at Victory Monument wait for long-overdue buses held up by the protest by truck and privately owned bus drivers which blocked some lanes of Vibhavadi Rangsit road. PATTANAPONG HIRUNARD
The government had previously decided to gradually raise the price of CNG by 50 satang a kilogramme a month for 12 months starting on Jan 16 until the price reaches 14.50 baht.
Under an agreement reached between the government and transport representatives, the government will issue energy credit cards to taxi and truck drivers to buy CNG at the present price during the four-month period while a suitable CNG price is being determined.
It will issue the cards to truck and taxi operators before the CNG price goes up on Jan 16, Mr Kittiratt said.
Transport operators rallied in two areas yesterday morning to demand the government delay the CNG price increase until next year.
Taxi drivers parked their vehicles at the Royal Plaza and rallied in front of Government House before sending their representatives to meet the government.
The group blocked three lanes of traffic in front of the Government House to demand that the price rise be postponed for a year.
The taxi drivers later ended their protest after the government agreed to set up a panel to find ways to address problems arising from the planned CNG price hike within four months.
The other group of protesters _ truck drivers and owners of buses operating under a Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) franchise _ parked their vehicles on the frontage road of Vibhavadi Rangsit Road in front of the Energy Ministry and energy giant PTT's head office. Land Transport Federation of Thailand chairman Yoo Jienyuenyongpong said they called off the protest after they too were informed of the results of the talks.
Transport Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat said transport operators who will be affected by the CNG price hike can meet the ministry to hammer out solutions for easing the effects of increased operating costs. He admitted operators could not stay in business if they are forbidden from raising fares even as the gas price goes up.
Problems should be solved through dialogue, not by staging road blockades, the minister said. "Transport operators have never consulted the ministry over fare increases," ACM Sukumpol said. "They often resort to applying pressure. If they come for talks, we are ready to consider the fares."
The government would not increase fares as long as the diesel price remained at 30 baht a litre. Only about 10% of the country's 700,000 trucks operate on CNG, while the rest are powered by diesel oil, ACM Sukumpol said.
Opas Phetmunee, director of the state-run Bangkok Mass Transit Authority, said the BMTA would put free buses into service if private passenger buses under the BMTA franchise cease services.