Ailing charter sector appeals for help
Durban - A KwaZulu-Natal businesswoman has taken up the cudgels for the decimated private charter passenger association to claim back millions of rand in bus licence fees from the Department of Transport.
Fiona Brooke-Leggatt, chairperson of the Private Charter Passenger Association, said that the organisation’s attorney had appealed to the ministers of Transport, Fikile Mbalula, Trade and Investment, Ebrahim Patel, and Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, for licensing refunds and other measures to be implemented to rescue the ailing sector.
The industry came to a standstill when the lockdown kicked in on March 26.
However, she said the ministers had not responded to the legal letters, the first of which was sent on May 25, while departmental officials had not responded to her emails.
Brooke-Leggatt said the recently gazetted extension of the Covid-19 lockdown grace period for the renewal of licence disks to August 31 under the Disaster Management Act regulations did not assist the commercial transport sector.
She said small operators had to pay between R40000 and R100000 upfront for a six-month licence, and at least one Pietermaritzburg operator had paid R900000 for his vehicles before lockdown.
However, his business had not operated since the start of lockdown, and he had lost at least R450000 so far.
“This still doesn’t help us, as those who have large commercial vehicles prepaid their licence fees and have not had four months’ use. The extension means nothing, we can’t use the vehicles anyway and we prepaid, so based on that we are entitled to our fees back,” Brooke-Leggatt said.
She added that her association’s attorneys had written to the ministers with several proposals to save businesses in the sector, however, she had not received a response.
She said she had personally spent R2million - her pension and life savings - on the business to keep paying staff and to pay overheads of R550000 per month as the Temporary Employee Relief Scheme had not paid all staff.
“It’s a nightmare as a result of four months of no income, the industry is facing massive retrenchments among its employees, and some members are still awaiting payment from Ters, including my own company.
“Some of my highly paid staff have not been paid because they say they are not registered, but they are registered,” she said.
“With no tourism, conferencing and events being held our vehicles have not moved,” she said.
“If private coach operators do not get help soon, the operators in our industry will disappear and there will be no coaches to service tourists when tourism reopens,” she said.
Brooke-Leggatt said the government did not care about the plight of the sector as it had not engaged with the association, although it had done so with the taxi industry and provided a R1.135billion subsidy.
KZN Department of Transport spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane said: “We share the frustrations of the industry. The government has come up with a number of interventions, there should be a way that the industry can benefit. We remain open as the government to engage with the industry and to take their submissions up to the minister of transport for consideration.
The spokesperson for the national Department of Transport, Ayanda-Allie Paine, had not responded to questions at the time of publication last night.
The departments of Trade and Industry and Tourism had also not responded to questions.