Bus fare increase on the cards for Durban commuters
DURBAN - HARD-PRESSED Durban residents who depend on the city’s buses to commute to work, are expected to pay more for bus fare next month, after the eThekwini Municipality approved a 7.7% increase.
The bus-fare increase, which comes hard on the heels of a steep petrol price hike, and an anticipated rates and electricity increase later in the year, had been planned for April 1 but was pushed back to May.
City officials said they were compelled to approve the increase, as failure to do so could trigger legal action from the bus operator, Tansnat.
Tansnat manages the buses on behalf of the municipality. The two parties have a fraught relationship, littered with legal action and claims against each other.
There have been calls and council resolutions, that the municipality should take back its buses and operate them instead of using the service provider.
During the city’s executive committee meeting yesterday, opposition party councillors said it was improper to increase the bus fares as this would hit the poorest of the poor hard. They argued that the economic recovery was taking longer than expected, with the poor bearing the brunt of Covid-19.
The city argued that it had a contractual obligation with the bus operator to increase the fares, and failure to do so could put the city in a bad position – where it might have to pay Tansnat the increases that are due.
In the report, the city said the fares needed to be increased to prevent under-recovery of the fare income by the operator.
It said that the bus service provided access and mobility to about 50 000 passengers daily and was funded through passenger fare income, the subsidy from the national budget received through the province and a contribution from the council funds.
“Given the fact that the operating cost escalates every year, the contract makes provision for an annual increase of fares to enable the service level to be maintained. The Durban Transport contract stipulates that the fare increase must be implemented annually to prevent under-recovery,” said the report.
The report also said an independent economic assessment had been undertaken and a recommendation of 7.7% fare increase has been made. The operator has been consulted on the fare increase and supported the recommended fare increase.
City officials said the proposed increase was lower than last year, where a fare increase of 8.85% was implemented. They said bus fares were not high and, even with the latest increase, the fare would still be affordable.
DA councillor Nicole Graham challenged exco (executive committee) on the fairness of the increase, saying there was no need to increase the fares on account that there was a contract.
She said it was unsound to argue that there was a contract in place that should be honoured, alleging that the other party in the agreement had failed to honour many payments it should have made to the city.
“They have not paid their security fees, their rental fees, I would argue they have breached that contract,” she said.
IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi described the increase as unfair and insensitive.
“Many people in the private sector lost their jobs, they are still struggling to recover from that. In such a situation, where is the sensitivity and the understanding that people are suffering?
“We had expected that the municipality would come to say that it had negotiated with the relevant stakeholders and they had negotiated a price decrease – not for them to say that there will be a fare increase.
“There is nothing in the city that points to signs that the economy is growing, if the economy is not growing, it means the people are also struggling to recover. If you increase the fare how are the people supposed to cope? There are people that search for jobs in areas where trains don’t run, and they rely on buses,” said Nkosi.
He said, as the municipality was a service-oriented organisation, it should not increase the fares.
“This is a municipality, not a taxi industry which is a private business,” he said.
He said Covid-19 had battered everyone and help should also be extended to residents, and not be limited to businesses.
City officials, however, argued that failure to approve and implement the increase would cost the city financially.
Beryl Khanyile, deputy city manager for Human Settlements, Engineering and Transport, said that, previously, the council had blocked the increase and paid dearly.
She said after the service provider won in court, the city had to pay them that increase.
Similar concerns were expressed by chief financial officer Krish Kumar, who said failure to implement the increase would put the city in a bad position. He said Tansnat had agreed to pay some of its charges to the city.
Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said the municipality should act cautiously, stating that it cannot afford expensive legal battles. In a letter addressed to the city and attached to the report, Tansnat said they were in support of the increase.
“We humbly request that the eThekwini Transport Authority proceed with the submission to exco, to get the 7.7% fare increase approved,” it said.