(Image credit: Rafael Galina via Panoramio.)
There was applause from the audience of more than 70 inhabitants of Villa Allende in Veracruz state, Mexico, after a planned fare increase for the Coatzacoalcos River ferry system was shelved.
This process is instructive for Mobility Managers who must interact with public boards in making schedule, quality and cost adjustments to transportation services.
Just a Simple Fare Increase Request
The president of the Cooperative Ferry Society, Eduardo Escudero Villanueva, representing several ferry owners, had come to the open meeting hoping to enact an MP$5.50 (about USD$.27) increase in the fare to cross the river. The ferry system connects Allende with the town of Coatzacoalcos on the opposite bank.
Chairing the meeting was municipal agent, Keren Prot Vásquez. Vásquez is responsible for oversight of the ferry cooperative on behalf of the local government.
Villanueva began by announcing the fare increase to the assembled stakeholders. He justified the change on the basis of increasing fuel costs. However, it quickly became apparent that the president of the Cooperative was not fully informed on some service problems routinely encountered by local residents.
Points raised by the attendees and Vásquez included:
- Some ferries were not running on schedule. Managers preferred to wait past the scheduled departure time in hopes of filling any remaining slots for vehicles or passengers.
- At night, an ad hoc fare increase in this amount was already being charged by a few operators. This increase was not authorized by either the Cooperative or the Municipality.
At this point, Villanueva attempted to restate the case. This too was unsuccessful. He then negotiated with the group, suggesting a smaller fare increase of MP$5. This also was rejected by the crowd.
Municipal agent Vásquez then said it had been reported to him that a few of the ferries had problems with rats that were not being addressed, raising health concerns.
At this, Villanueva withdrew his fare increase proposal and said it would be postponed until some of these service issues could be addressed.
A few lessons Mobility Managers can learn from this embarrassing encounter before requesting a fare or rate increase:
- Ensure that there is reasonable justification for the change, either in improved service levels, increased expenses, etc., preferably providing some customer benefits;
- Investigate the current level of service to provide assurance that present service levels and fares are being adhered to;
- Review service during non-peak hours to verify service consistency; and,
- Ask for customer feedback via survey, interviews or social media.
The ferries have another major concern: a new tunnel under the river connecting the two towns is under construction and will be completed in 2017.
The days of dictating fare increases may be over for the Coatzacoalcos River ferries.
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