Private tour buses demand licence fee return, say business is feeling the pinch from Covid-19 lockdown
Durban - Members of the Private Charter Passenger Association are demanding that the government refund their vehicle licence fees as businesses face mounting debt and closure due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
Private Charter Passenger Association chairperson, Fiona Brooke-Leggatt said they had been lobbying government for months to discuss their demand to have millions of rands worth of licence fees refunded but, to no avail. Tour buses and coaches embarked on a national drive-slow protest to highlight their plight last month and to call for the opening up of the tourism sector.
However, despite the opening up of inter-provincial tourism under lockdown level two last month, she said the industry was continuing to be decimated as most business relied on international tourists and business from schools to survive. She said bus owners paid licence fees six months in advance of around R40 000 per coach - amounting to millions of rand overall - but their fleets had been parked since March and several firms were now facing bank repossession of vehicles and liquidation.
Brooke-Leggatt said she had raised the industry’s demands with Transport director-general Alec Moemi and to other officials in the office of Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula in recent weeks, but no decision had been made to assist the sector.
“I got hold of the director-general and he WhatsApped, saying that ‘we are dealing with your matter’. He said he had contacted various departments regarding the six month refund,” she said.
However, Brooke-Leggatt said she had heard nothing further from him since receiving his message last Wednesday. “It is too terrible they are deliberately trying to kill the industry. I have very angry disillusioned people,” Brooke-Leggatt said.
Mohsin Moolla, owner of Eldo Coaches which operates nationally with offices in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, said business was at a “standstill”.
“The lockdown has affected our tourism side of the business which is currently at a stand still because the airports are closed and no foreign travel is allowed so we have zero business although inter-provincial is starting to pick up a bit as people are allowed to travel provincially. School and corporate excursions are also flat because corporates are not going to conferences,” he said.
He said he had paid bus licences for 12 months for his fleet of 85 vehicles at a cost of around R40 000 per vehicle, which amounted to around R3.4million. Moolla said a refund for the past six months licence fees would help his business tremendously as he had to pay overheads such as insurance and vehicle loan repayments while business was at a standstill.
“The banks gave us a six-month payment holiday but the time is coming to an end. We have not been engaged properly, whenever the minister comes and says he engaged the industry, we as the industry have not been engaged with,” he said.
Mbalula’s spokesperson Ayanda Allie-Paine said the Department of Transport had noted the concerns raised by the Private Charter Passenger Association and was attending to the matters.