THOUSANDS of commuters who rely on government-subsidised buses for public transport in Mamelodi every day will not be inconvenienced in any way when the City of Tshwane takes over the troublesome route from today.
“Let us not destroy what we have in order to receive what we do not have.”
This was the plea made by Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga at the official launch of Belle Ombre Depot and Mamelodi A Re Yeng routes this morning.
Msimanga said one of the reasons that the previous bus service operator Autopax pulled out was because 19 buses were torched last year in Mamelodi during the local government elections.
Autopax, as a state-owned transport entity, had stepped in to assist the department with bus services when Putco in 2015 voluntarily surrendered its contract to the department due to company losses on the Mamelodi routes.
A total of 30 buses from the A Re Yeng fleet today ferried Mamelodi commuters to the respective destinations, replacing the Autopax bus service operations, which did the job for the past two years.
“We need to take care of our modes of transports because they allow us to make a living for our families,” said Msimanga. He said the launch of the depot which took years from 2015 was a steadfast project that is meant to make public transport a bliss for commuters.
Roads and Transport MMC Sheila Lynn Senkubuge stated that the City was in a migration phase and would not be using the Connector Card just yet for the route. “For the first month we will be using tickets. The A Re Yeng bus tickets will be available at Denneboom Station,” she said.
People should not confuse the provision of 30 A Re Yeng buses to the area as the roll-out of the bus rapid (BRT) transit system, owned and managed by Tshwane Rapid Transit on behalf of the City. “This is not the BRT implementation; that process is still under way,” she said.
The City will from this morning provide buses from the A Re Yeng fleet to ferry Mamelodi commuters to their respective destinations. The buses replace the Autopax.
The state-owned bus service stepped in two years ago after Putco voluntarily surrendered its contract to the provincial Department of Roads and Transport. At the time, Putco said it would no longer transport commuters in Mamelodi or those in Meyerton, Katlehong, Vosloorus and Thokoza because “these routes were not financially viable”.
The withdrawal of Autopax took effect yesterday. The City has agreed to provide efficient and continual public transport services.
The takeover is linked to the strategic objectives to promote good governance and active citizenry, improve financial sustainability and ensure continued organisational development, transformation and innovation.
According to Vadi, Autopax was only meant to assist in the interim, but ended up staying longer. “Autopax usually caters for long-distance destinations,” said Vadi. While serving Mamelodi, Autopax experienced a crisis when 19 of its buses were burnt last year just before the local government elections because of political differences. The bus operations were suspended for a while afterwards.
Previously, Putco also had its fair share of problems in the area. In February 2015, the company announced that it had given the department notice that it would not be renewing its operating licence when it expired the following month.
Putco and the department agreed that the bus company would continue operations for a few months.
The company also said it wanted to enhance bus availability and service reliability by redeploying buses and resources to other more viable areas. By stopping operations on some major routes, including Mamelodi, Putco freed up 180 buses.
Putco also divulged that it had been trying to resolve issues around subsidies with the department for years. “Since 2009, the annual increases in the subsidy allocation for bus contracts has been consistently lower than the increases in the major cost items of bus operators, such as fuel, labour and maintenance,” it said.
“For example, the increase in bus subsidies from the public transport operations grant for 2015/16 is only 2.2%, while the cost increases in labour, fuel and maintenance in the bus sector have consistently been above 9%. This has eroded profit margins and pushed bus contracts into financial losses. It has placed financial strain on the company and is impacting negatively on operations and services in other areas.”
The Putco bus contracts had been awarded between 1996 and 2000 and were initially for only five years. The contracts expired more than 10 years ago and Putco operated on a month-to-month basis, and more recently on a yearly basis.
Last month, the province and the City concluded an inter-governmental authorisation agreement to process subsidised bus contracts in the capital from April next year.
Vadi said the agreement represented a milestone in that it opened the way for the City to take over fully public transport responsibilities.
Senkubuge welcomed the move and said that the City would develop over time its capacity to take on this important public transport function.
In terms of the agreement, the department and the City agreed to provide efficient public transport services, particularly in Mamelodi.
The Belle Ombre Bus Depot which is already being utilised, will be able to accommodate 114 buses and it has the following features:
- Administration block which also accommodates on call drivers facilities
- Fully equipped workshop which can service both the CNG and Diesel buses
- Compressed natural gas fuelling facilities
- Diesel fueling facilities
- Bus washing bay.