BUSES GRIND TO A HALT
Putco’s tanks dry up after state fails to pay subsidy, leaving 230,000 Gauteng commuters stranded
Putco says it is not certain when its buses will start running again in Gauteng after services were suspended on Thursday.
‘Our services have been suspended indefinitely. We do not have diesel because we were not paid subsidies, so we can not afford diesel at this moment,” Putco spokesperson Lindokuhle Xulu told Daily Maverick after up to 230,000 commuters were left stranded on Thursday morning.
“We are waiting for the subsidy so that we are able to purchase diesel and get back on the road as soon as possible. We will only be able to place an order for the diesel once we receive the money,” Xulu said.
Xulu said the bus company will only be able to soundly communicate with commuters about the resumption of services the day after the subsidy has been paid. He also confirmed that between 200,000 and 230,000 commuters have been affected by the disruption.
What the department says
The Gauteng department of roads and transport said on Thursday the delay in processing the March subsidies were the result of a widely known procedure and trend.
“The Public Transport Operating Grant (PTOG) [is] only being transferred to the province by the National Department of Transport in the first week of May each financial year,” it said.
“The department currently manages 34 bus subsidy contracts awarded to 13 bus operators, Putco among them.”
The department said it had made the payment which would reflect on Putco’s account on Monday, 8 May 2023. This means that on Friday there will still be no Putco bus services, since the company said it has no money to buy diesel.
Asked about what will become of those passengers who bought monthly tickets, Xulu said the company was only worried about its commuters in the Gauteng northern region.
“The people who bought monthly tickets in the southern region of our operation, we do not have to worry about them because their tickets expire after a period of two months,” he said.
This meant that these commuters would still be able to use their tickets when operations resumed.
“However, in the northern region, they are using an old ticket system where they physically turn up with their tickets. They know that whenever we have disruptions such as this one, we compensate them by discounting their tickets,” Xulu added.
Putco said operations were also affected in Mpumalanga.
“It’s all bus operations (affected), north and south,” added Xulu.
However, some Putco commuters who spoke to Daily Maverick on Thursday morning said they had not been sufficiently compensated for their tickets. This had been the case during Putco strikes and other disruptions.
“I don’t have the heart to deal with the admin of it all. I purchase a monthly ticket because I only want to worry about getting on the bus on time, and not ticketing. Every time there are disruptions Putco tries its best to accommodate us, but this is not enough as some people are never compensated. We have seen this after strikes and other disruptions,” commuter Sphamandla Xulu said.
Asked about the amount of outstanding subsidies, the bus company said this was difficult to quantify.
“It’s very difficult to put a finger on that because, basically what happens is that in the bus industry at this stage we use a mileage-based system,” Xulu said.
In this system, drivers kept a record of their mileage together with other supporting documents. The Department of Transport then audited these to determine the size of the subsidies.
Meanwhile, other commuters told Daily Maverick they were satisfied with the communication regarding the non-payment of the subsidies, especially because it had been received the day before the disruption.
“All households have their problems and Putco is no exception. For me it’s enough that we were notified/learned of the disruption last night (Wednesday night), that gave us time to consider alternative transport. In my case I will take a taxi. It’s much more expensive but like I said, Putco is a business and disruptions in any business are not unexpected,” commuter Zandile Khumalo said.
In September 2022 Putco became embroiled in a labour dispute after it fired more than 100 employees it accused of misconduct during a drivers’ strike.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Time running out for unions to decide on Putco’s proposal on fired bus strike staff
The Motor Industry Staff Association (Misa) has appealed to all parties in the Putco wage negotiations to behave responsibly “because workers are suffering”.
“The sharp increase in the cost of living and the persistent load shedding [have] a severe impact on households. When buses are not running, workers are forced to use taxis at four times the rate,” Misa chief executive Martlé Keyter said on Thursday.
According to the association, domestic worker Johanna Moleka (55) normally pays R230 per week to travel from Hammanskraal to Wonderboom in Pretoria and back. Since Monday she has been paying R120 per day to travel with a taxi on the same route.
“How will she be able to feed her children if her salary goes into transport? It is the most vulnerable of our society that are hit the hardest,” Keyter said. DM