BUS COMPANIES LAUGH AT ATTEMPT BY FASTJET TO ‘STEAL’ THEIR CLIENTS
A day spent in the city yesterday brought with it the opportunity to carry out a quick survey from among staff of inter-country bus companies, plying the routes between Kampala and Nairobi, but also beyond Kenya’s capital to Mombasa, Arusha and Dar es Salaam. I carried with me a copy of the Business Daily (www.businessdailyafrica.com) from earlier in the week, in which one Richard Bodin, FastJet’s Chief Commercial Officer, claimed in an interview with the newspaper’s Wangui Maina that his airline would target bus travelers and lure them into the air with their 20 US Dollar fare. (http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate+News/FastJet+eyes+bus+travellers+with+low+fare+model+/-/539550/1598564/-/item/0/-/13vmn3x/-/index.html)
Literally every person I spoke with, from Easy Coach over Gateway to Kampala Coach, Modern Coach to Queens Coach, developed fits of laughter, and kept laughing even after reading the relevant sections of the interview for themselves. Said Mukasa, working at one of the bus companies: ‘We charge 60.000 Uganda Shillings for a trip to Nairobi and double for return. Most of our bookings we get even on the day people want to travel or maybe the day earlier. Only for the big holidays do people book in advance because they fear the fares might go up. Even then, maybe two weeks or a week before they travel but otherwise most just come or call and book their seat and pay the ticket. Now we are in town. That is convenient for many of our passengers because they can use public transport to reach us on Dewinton Road. If they have to spend extra time and money to find transport to the airport, that will be an added expense they will think twice to pay for. Our buses are safe and we offer good service. Those travelling by bus will not suddenly fly because with us 60K is all they pay including baggage. There are no extra cost involved’.
A passenger called Mwangi, going back to Nairobi with that same company said: ‘I can afford the bus fare. This one goes via Busia but others go through Malaba. I have used them all but have to stop in Kisumu for some business. It is convenient even if a trip takes 12 hours. I can bring my drink and food and they never disturb me when I bring along boxes with goods I bought or bring to sell. This talk of a fare of 20 Dollars is also not true. I read the Nation last week and slowly it is coming out that there are too many added extra cost hidden and if I decide today to travel tomorrow, a ticket will be a lot more than just 20 Dollars. I stick to the bus’ while at another bus company a lady called Fatima said: ‘Me I cannot fly, they ask too many things at the airport and going to Entebbe and then from Nairobi airport to town also costs extra fares. It takes me 12 hours overnight and tomorrow morning I am in Nairobi Inshallah and buy my goods and when I am finished I take the next bus back to Kampala’.
These sentiments were echoed by several other travelers too who were keenly listening to explanations that the peddled fare of US Dollars 20 only was indeed misleading, as it was subject to a range of added charges, which are only slowly emerging now after pressure from the media to unearth the true cost of a FastJet ticket. The findings made it clear that hopeful travelers certain to raise the 52.000 Uganda Shillings fare at current exchange rates would have to cough up a lot more in real terms before being able to fly on FastJet, plus the added cost of going to and coming from the airports to the city.
A leading Kampala travel agent, Declan Peppard of TravelCare, in fact pegged the taxes and fees on a Kenya Airways return ticket between Entebbe and Nairobi to 190 US Dollars, revealing the level of add on to the basic fare, a reason why flying in the region has remained so expensive, as regulators and authorities act like vampires to suck every last shilling out of travelers pockets.
Bus company staff are therefore, and probably rightly so, dismissive of the notion that FastJet would be able to siphon any significant numbers from among bus travelers using overland coaches to travel across the region, nor will they make a big impact on the back pack budget tourists, as they like to get off at key waypoints like in Jinja for white water rafting and other adventure activities, or in Nakuru or Narok to see the national parks nearby, all places where FastJet does not and never will reach with their A319 aircraft. Fodder for thought no doubt, concludes yours truly, still laughing too.