Durban - Some of Durban’s bus drivers have been on a “feeding frenzy” by pocketing fares – apparently even helped by passengers – and causing considerable losses in revenue.
Last year 52 drivers – almost 9 percent of the 641 drivers employed by Tansnat – were fired in one week alone. Recently rampant ticket fraud had led to the suspension of 46 drivers, said John Wilkinson, Tansnat general manager, the private company that operates the buses.
“We have a serious problem. It has been a feeding frenzy,” said Wilkinson, adding that in some cases drivers were colluding with inspectors who had been dispatched to curb the problem.
“It is a huge dilemma for us and firing is not the solution here,” he said, saying that the previous mass firing had done little to deter theft.
“You have no idea what is happening here; it’s a scourge. It is happening across all bus routes...” said Wilkinson.
Drivers handled a lot of money and the “temptation was always there”, he said.
Wilkinson said the suspended drivers had approached the CCMA and the company had to pay the drivers until the matter was resolved.
Tansnat employs 36 roving and 30 stationary bus inspectors, but with more than 9 000 trips a day, Wilkinson said it was impossible for them to conduct inspections on each bus.
And to make matters worse, “there is a great deal of collusion between drivers and passengers… and to a lesser degree some collusion exists between drivers and inspectors”.
He said it was difficult to quantify the loss to the company, but it was “significant”.
The Daily News had received a number of complaints about drivers taking fares without issuing tickets. To investigate the claims, a reporter was sent out on three bus trips at the weekend.
On Saturday at 10.30am the reporter took a short trip from King Dinuzulu Hospital to Makro in Springfield. No ticket was issued for the R5.50 fare.
About 45 minutes later the reporter boarded a bus from Makro to KwaMashu station. A ticket was issued, but the reporter saw that some passengers did not receive tickets.
Later, on a trip from KwaMashu to King Dinuzulu Hospital, the reporter was charged R5, but did not receive a ticket. Again, some passengers were also not issued tickets.
Those expecting proof of payment were given a scornful look by the driver and hastened to take their seats.
Strangely, a number of passengers who were given tickets were seen handing them back to the driver as they alighted. He would give them a cheery smile followed by “ngiyabonga” (thank you).
It is not known if the same tickets were being handed out a second time, or if those who had handed them back had been paying discounted fares.
Last week, a concerned reader wrote in the BackChat forum that the abuse of the ticketing system was to blame for the company’s financial woes.
She wrote that on a Mynah bus from town the driver never issued tickets to four passengers on that trip. “No wonder buses run at loss,” she wrote.
Another woman from Newlands said she was worried that passengers without tickets would be unable to make claims from insureance in the event of an accident.
“What are we teaching our children, who become exposed to these bad habits while travelling to schools? It happens daily from New Dawn Park. If 10 (drivers) are doing it, surely the bus company runs at a loss. This would force the eThekwini (municipality) to bail them out again just like in the past. It disrupts the running of buses.”
She added: “Corruption starts small and grows to a level where it becomes unstoppable.”
Wilkson said that when Tansnat was brought in to “revive” the service in 2009, Durban Transport was in disarray.
“To say that a culture of disobedience was prevalent would be an understatement.”
He said income had since increased by more than 50 percent. However, “pilferage” in the bus industry was one of its biggest challenges.
Earlier this month the municipality’s economic development and planning committee approved a 9.4 percent hike in bus fares, which comes into force next month.
It was revealed at the meeting that Durban Transport had been spending R12m a year to transport its own drivers home after their shifts. Tansnat had outsourced the transport to taxi operators.
eThekwini municipality spokesman Thabo Mofokeng said the municipality was aware some drivers were failing to issue tickets and colluding with passengers who did not pay the full fare.
He said the operator had a responsibility to investigate and deal with the reports.
Wilkinson said Tansnat and the eThekwini Transport Authority had begun an awareness campaign to discourage passengers from colluding in ticket fraud.
Cashless system offers hope
THE eThekwini Transport Authority’s Muvo card, a cashless system that will replace coupons by April 1, is expected to help reduce ticket fraud.
The authority’s head, Thami Manyathi, said the PIN card would be used for both bus and rail transport as part of the city’s Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network.
There were 32 000 commuters who have moved to Muvo, he said. The card can be used to shop at certain stores, as one would with a debit or credit card.
Erik Moller of the authority said passengers had been changing numbers on coupons and the new system would prevent this.
The card is being issued free of charge until May 1, one month after the bus coupons are to be discontinued, from which point a charge will be levied for the card.
Manyathi urged passengers to buy cards at pay points at the same locations where bus coupons are sold. They can also be bought from some municipal Sizakala centres.