Charter bus companies say pleas for help being ignored
DURBAN - The Private Charter Passenger Association’s (PCPA) repeated plea to Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula to extend its members’ bus licenses’ validity as the industry is on its knees after earning no income during the Covid-19 lockdown, has fallen on deaf ears according to its chairperson.
PCPA chairperson Fiona Brooke-Leggatt said she had written repeatedly to senior officials in the department of transport and to Mbalula advising that the industry was struggling and desperate and asking for a meeting for assistance with license fees but had not received any response. Brooke-Leggatt said she had last written to the minister in mid-December but had not even received an acknowledgement.
She said the industry had forked out more than R23 million in license fees since last March but businesses had not had been able to operate their buses for more than nine months during lockdown and had no income. She said director-general Alec Moemi had earlier advised her that it would not be likely that the government would refund the license fees but that he would approach provincial transport departments to extend the validity of their licenses.
However, she said the licenses had not been extended and business owners who were unable to pay were being charged penalties.
“They are completely ignoring us … the deputy general told us that it would be be easy to resolve to extend the licenses. We had a meeting with him months ago and we are still waiting for him to put it into action,” she said.
“Mbalula has not shut the taxi industry which from the beginning of lockdown has run at capacity and we have not run once and we are tax-paying businesses unlike the taxi industry. They want us to collapse,” Brooke-Leggatt said.
“We rely on international tourists and on school tours and there are no school tours. We have had no income since March and the banks are repossessing like hell. The government has not had the courtesy to even respond or reply and we are the only industry in the country that has not worked from March until now,” she said.
She said businesses had retrenched staff and were facing imminent closure with some owners seeking alternative business opportunities to survive. She said she had paid more than R1m in license fees and could not longer afford to pay.
Brooke-Leggatt said she had set up a new business supplying food to hotels, guesthouses and residents in the Midlands and Drakensberg area.
“I thought food is the last thing that will collapse in this country because everybody has to eat and I need some type of income. I took the seats out of a bus and turned it into a refrigerated vehicle and I am now taking orders for food online and delivering it. It’s slow because people don’t have money but at least it is better than no cash flow,” she said.
Nicolas Motshabi, owner of eight-year-old Letlhabile Coaches said business and been “really bad” since March 27, last year and he was now seeking opportunities in the construction industry.
“We have been struggling to get our buses on the road. I don’t know if the government understands how bus companies work. We are in a market where we transport tourists and do school tours as the core of our business and as a result of lockdown our buses are standing,” he said.
He said firms paid license fees of R52 000 per bus.
“If you own five buses and only have money to pay the licence for one they don’t want to release the license for the one bus. We tried to engage with government to sensitise them but they do not want to give us an audience,” he said.
“We owe banks and even our bank account has been frozen. If we are not going to get help now over the buses we might as well close down because things are not going to open again as normal,” he said.
“If government could just sit with us and listen then there can be a way forward to deal with this.”
Rajen Maharaj, third generation owner of Maharaj’s Coaches which has operated since the 1960s when his grandfather opened the firm, said business had never been this bad.
“We thought we could start work from this year but we had the first cancellation already for next week. It was a school orientation trip. This is the plight we are all in and we don’t know which way to turn. I am trying to sell some spares to keep things going but it is difficult,” he said.
Mbalula’s spokesperson Ayanda Allie-Paine had not responded to questions at the time of publication.