Durban - Durban’s bus system is a disaster with millions squandered on paying private firms to run it.
Now city leaders say the time has come for the municipality to take it back and run it properly.
This was the overriding view of the city’s executive committee at its weekly meeting on Tuesday.
After watching the service lumber along for more than a decade, there was unanimous agreement that something had to be done – and urgently.
One option was for the buses to be taken back from the financially beleaguered private company Tansnat Durban and for them to be run as a municipal entity.
City manager S’bu Sithole was given four months to come up with a new business plan.
He said the city was considering running the bus service along the same lines as the International Convention Centre and uShaka Marine World. These models had their own staff and boards of directors answering to the municipality.
“We will be playing an oversight role to ensure we don’t have problems like we had in December when drivers were not paid.
“We are now saying that management by private operators must end,” Sithole said.
The transfer of the drivers back to the city still had to be negotiated with Tansnat Durban.
“We can’t hire new people and ignore those who are already doing the work. Whatever we do, we must not lose the government (transport) subsidy,” he said.
There have been endless problems with Tansnat Durban including a mammoth debt it owed the taxman, which had now been paid.
Until the transfer was complete Tansnat Durban would continue to run the bus service on a month-to-month basis.
“To avoid risks, there must be a team in place to ensure there are no further problems. The buses must be on time and workers must be paid on time,” he said.
In a report tabled at the meeting, the head of the eThekwini Transport Authority, Thami Manyathi, said the operator had displayed poor cash flow management and had defaulted on statutory payments such as PAYE, UIF and workmens’ compensation.
The municipal task team would need to implement financial controls and governance structure until the new inhouse entity was established, he said.
After the service was back with the city there would be no relationship with Tansnat Durban and its management.
Mayor James Nxumalo said that three years ago a company had been appointed to investigate the buses and after that they had been advised to change the status quo.
Nxumalo said the biggest problem was that the buses were owned by the municipality but were run privately.
“We want to play our own oversight role so that we can ensure the funds are managed properly,” he said.
Nxumalo said if the municipality failed it would be their problem but if it succeeded it would be their success.
“We want to get out of bus problems once and for all,” he said.
Deputy mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala agreed:
“We have tried with private companies but it has not worked. We are going back to what it was before.”
While the NFP and the MF welcomed this decision, the DA recommended that the buses continue privately, but with several companies instead of one.
Despite the bus troubles, the city has rolled out its GO! Durban Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network which will eventually incorporate all public transport.
How it all unravelled
2002: eThekwini Municipality’s transport department proposes its buses be privatised. Workers are promised better salaries and that their benefits will be unaffected.
2003: Remant and Alton Coach form Remant Alton Land Transport and buy the buses for R70 million. Another company, Ibhodwe Bus Consortium, is formed to represent the interests of workers. Workers’ salaries are cut, leading to protests.
2005: Workers go to the Labour Court, complaining that Ibhodwe has not benefited them.
2008: Former Transport MEC Bheki Cele intervenes to broker peace between workers and Remant Alton.
2009: Remant Alton declares it is in financial trouble and pulls out of operating the buses. The workers lose their benefits. The municipality pays R405m to bail out the operation, which had incurred huge debt.
The buses are handed to Tansnat Durban. Workers refuse to sign new contracts and demand that the municipality take back the buses and reinstate their benefits.
2013: The municipality pays R8.1m to Tansnat Durban so they can pay the drivers.