The provincial transport department wants to end its contract with Golden Arrow bus service but a hold-up at the national department has hamstrung them.
Instead of one bus service, the provincial department is working towards an integrated public transport system which will see up to 12 bus operators, minibus taxis and the rail system working in tandem with smart-card technology.

Last year the bus service, owned by black empower-ment group Hosken Consoli-dated Investments, made a net profit of R88-million.

It has bought more than 374 new buses over the last five years, refurbished 200 and is operating on a lucrative month-to-month contract without being beholden to the provincial department of transport.

Last month the way local government handled the bus service issue came under attack from the DA, for what it says is an unfair tariff system.

But Golden Arrow claimed working on a month-to-month contract has not deterred it from delivering a good service to millions of commuters – 260 000 daily.

It said its drivers were well trained and it has a dedicated complaints hotline.

But the transport department said Golden Arrow operated a monopoly which needed to be broken.

The head of the provincial transport department, Thami Manyathi, said the contract it had with Golden Arrow did not allow it to exercise oversight.

“We want to end the contract. It should have been addressed some time ago. They are running on an interim contract, a month-to-month one, and this is not a good arrangement for anyone.”

He said the department stuck with the bus operator until the national department gave it the go-ahead to change things.

“There has been an impasse nationally but we have done the work to redesign the new system and it has been ready for more than a year,” said Manyathi.

“The new system will not just unbundle Golden Arrow but will mean in future we will have 12 contracts which will cover different areas in the metro and will integrate rail services, instead of segregating them.

“We will use smart-card technology.”

Golden Arrow will probably remain a player in the industry, but in a reduced capacity.

Under the new contracts, operators will have to consistently provide high levels of service. They will face penalties if buses are not punctual, or drivers are rude and not trained correctly.

“It’s not possible to have such close management now. We have been caught in an awkward situation. We have monthly meetings but we don’t have the muscle,” Manyathi said.

He said Golden Arrow had provided essential services but there was a lot of room for improvement.

The department had already started engaging taxi associations to form companies which would allow them to participate.

Robin Carlisle of the DA said the province had dealt unfairly with the service by leaving it on a month-to-month contract as it would have to be “crazy to spend money on capital”.

The bus company signed an interim contract with the provincial and national departments in 1997, when the government decided to restructure public transport. The interim contract should have lasted for three years, but there were hold-ups, notably in formalising the taxi industry.

Golden Arrow spokesperson Vuyisile Mdoda said the scale of its operations meant the month-to-month contract was not ideal “but that has not prevented the company from investing substantially in new rolling stock and infrastructure”.

Source: Cape Argus – Lynette Johns