Inflation impact: The falling mileage of paying for soaring fuel costs

With petrol selling at ₹110.85 a litre, diesel at ₹100.94 a litre and cooking gas at ₹1,015.50 per 14.2-kg cylinder, the impact that fuel price rise has had in every possible sphere, including transport, the cost of essential goods, dining out, manufacturing and travel, is immeasurable. And despite such all-time-high prices, sources say oil companies are selling these essential items at a loss since international crude prices are much higher

Updated - May 18, 2022 12:41 am IST

Published - May 17, 2022 06:45 pm IST

Representational image.

Representational image. | Photo Credit: Murali Kumar K.

“When will the rising petrol prices stop...” This was the question asked by a 26-year-old, who works as a delivery boy with an online app in Madurai. The ever-increasing price of the fuel has been cutting into his daily earnings in a major way.

“It looks unstoppable. I am unable to increase my earnings. The gap between my income and expenditure has already widened so I am looking to shift to electric bikes or a two-wheeler, which has higher fuel efficiency,” he said.

After not being able to earn for over two years owing to the lockdown, or making the bare minimum to survive, commuting to places of work has become crucial to be able to make ends meet. For Siva, 39, who works as a cashier with a private hospital, the fuel price hike has forced him to use share-autorickshaws to commute to work. “About 18 months ago, during the peak of COVID-19, I used to fill fuel for ₹2,700 per month. Now it works out to ₹3,850 per month. I spend around ₹3,000 on share-autorickshaws, which helps me save ₹850,” he said, suggesting that the State government consider free travel for men too. “Why gender bias,” he asked.

While the common man, in many places, is being forced to depend on public transport or take share-autorickshaw rides, many autorickshaws plying in Coimbatore district have halved the number of trips in the past few months as it is not economically viable, said R. Selvam, district president of the CITU-affiliated Coimbatore District Auto Drivers Union.

The vehicle maintenance cost has nearly doubled, but the State government is yet to revise the minimum fare that was fixed in 2015, Mr. Selvam said.

There are those who have been forced to take up additional jobs to ensure that they can continue to commute for work. Sekar, an employee at a private college at Kalapatti on the outskirts of Coimbatore, has been a part-time bike taxi driver for the past few months. With the increase in fuel prices, he says he is forced to request customers for a few additional rupees above the fare shown by the bike taxi aggregator. However, since he is not able to manage expenses as before owing to lesser rides, he might stop this soon.

Students affected

The domino effect of the rising fuel cost has made many public and private bus transport companies reduce the frequency of services in Tiruchi. This, in turn, has affected many of those who rely on buses to get around, such as college students.

“Bus services have become a new problem for us during the pandemic, because they are not as regular on their routes. When we travel to nearby villages, we are able to get a bus from Tiruchi, but it is impossible to get buses in the evenings, when our work ends. We often have to walk back four or five kilometres to reach our campus,” said Kevin Jose, a second-year computer science student of a city college.

“Pooling in money to share an autorickshaw or two-wheeler ride is a costly option for many of us. My parents were giving me ₹2,000 for my two-wheeler fuel, but now it has become an added burden on the family budget,” he said.

The high price of petrol and diesel has affected not just bus services but also goods delivery sector vendors like milkmen and bottled water suppliers using two-wheelers for supplies, said G. Ramesh, secretary, Tamil Nadu Petroleum Dealers Association, Tiruchi region. “The frequency of visits of customers, who normally refuel for ₹100-₹200, has come down,” he said.

Soaring prices

An oil industry expert said that despite extremely high prices, oil companies have not witnessed any drop in the sale of petrol or diesel since people have no other option because of lack of proper public transport.

“Many consumers are managing to cut down on travel by 10%-15% and only stepping out for the bare essentials. But even that is burning a hole in their pockets. As far as the state-run oil companies are concerned, their sales volumes have not dropped due to the hike since there are more retail fuel outlets. Despite electric and CNG vehicles making inroads into the petrol/diesel markets, the demand for petrol continues to increase. It is the dealers who have been hit hard by the decrease in sales volumes due to competition, the high amounts that they have to pay in advance to purchase fuel and no increase in commissions. The news is that oil companies are itching to hike the prices to match international crude prices. This could be a hike of ₹10 per litre of petrol and ₹25 per litre of diesel, which would come as a huge blow to consumers,” he said.

(With inputs from L. Srikrishna in Madurai, R. Akileish in Coimbatore, Nahla Nainar in Tiruchi and Deepa H. Ramakrishnan in Chennai.)

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