Buses a vital govt service
Operators warn service-delivery protests will increase if cheap public transport fails to run
NATIONAL bus operators last week repeated the message they give each year at the annual Southern African Bus Operators Association conference, but for 2015 they added service-delivery protests into the mix.
Addressing the operators on transformation in the bus industry, costing expert Philip van Ryneveld warned if bus operators did not get the increased subsidies they need to continue supplying cheap and safe transport, the current average of three service-delivery protests a month in Gauteng could treble to nine.
Van Ryneveld said this pattern could repeat along bus routes everywhere in South Africa.
Earlier Deputy Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga told the assembled operators South Africa’s public transport challenges are compounded by serious service backlogs “as a result of years of neglect and underinvestment” in public transport.
“A recent report by the Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC) concluded that South Africa’s transport system problems are largely characterised, and should be acknowledged, as service-delivery backlogs,” said Chikunga.
He said to address these backlogs will take a significant amount of time and said “injection of funds alone will not be adequate to solve our public transport problems”.
He said just throwing money at the problem will not solve the backlogs as South Africa already subsidised about 60% of a bus ticket compared to 30% or less in Europe and zero percent in most African states.
He said the solution for SA’s public transport challenges goes beyond funding and includes issues such as spatial development planning, proper management and proper planning,” said Chikunga.
Lisa Seftel, former director of transport in the City of Johannesburg, said lack of clear leaders who can get mandates, ongoing instability and lack of input from the taxi industry can still take the whole public sector down.
Several bus operators complained during forum discussions that illegal taxi operators were “stealing” their clients away, while the ongoing planning showed no signs of coming to an end.
UK Automobile Association’s business development director Jason Vallint said this was a real concern, as the UK’s statistics show buses to be much safer vehicles than any other mode of road transport.
Van Ryneveld said the current view by conventional bus operators, namely that rapid bus transport programmes will erode their business, must shift.
He said bus rapid transport with its gross contracting payment model is not feasible on South Africa’s traditionally long bus routes, on which all the passengers typically travel to the same destination on return journeys.
Similarly, these long route operators would not survive in the shorter routes of cities, which has a business model that require passengers to constantly get on and off the bus.
Head of KZN’s Department of Transport Sibusiso Gumbi sent statistics that showed only five percent of bus routes were owned by by “Africans”.
Several operators from KZN challenged this statistic, saying KZN was 100% transformed, with all public transport owned by people of African descent.
“Instead of worrying about BEE, our province should think about lowering the licence fees for heavy commercial vehicles.
“KZN’s licensing fees are the highest in SA and where possible, all operators register their buses and trucks in neighbouring province to save tens of thousands a year,” said a bus operator, who asked to remain anonymous.
Seen at the bus conference held in Pretoria last week were Freda Cooper (second from left) with the Sekalis, who transport shoppers from the Eastern Free State to Gauteng, (from left) Joyce, Matshidiso, Lerato Sekali and Thabang Sekali.