The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) is expected to haul the Transport Department over the coals over the 26 000 jobs it says could be lost if the “crisis” in the bus industry is not resolved soon.

Satawu plans to address Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport today.

This comes in the wake of a hold-up in paying passenger subsidies due for December and January for bus Operators across the country. Nationally, the department reportedly owes operators R1.2 billion. The department yesterday said it had not received additional funding from the National Treasury. “The department received court papers from the Southern African Bus Operators’ Association recently,” a statement said, “At this point the department is looking into the matter.”

Satawu secretary-general Randall Howard said that if the operators were not paid soon, the industry would collapse, This would result in more than 26 000 employees losing their jobs – about 2 800 of them from the Western Cape.

At least 1.5 million commuters nationally who used public buses to get to school and work would be left stranded.

Golden Arrow Bus Services, which operates in Cape Town and its surrounds, reached an out-of-court settlement with the national and provincial transport departments just over a week ago. The departments were ordered to pay out R92 million in subsidies. But the money has still not been paid, forcing the financially strapped bus company to again approach the Cape High Court to force the departments to pay immediately.

This matter is yet to be resolved, even though management fears it could be declared bankrupt as early as the end of the month.

The company transports about 250000 commuters every day. Howard said bus operators were “running on fumes, financially”. “Essentially, they’re on a knife’s-edge in paying for operating costs.” he said. “They need fuel to run, but suppliers are no longer willing to extend them credit. If that’s not bad enough, the banks are jittery in giving them loans because the government refuses to pay them.”

Howard warned that if bus operators, such as Golden Arrow were shut down, it could result in a public uproar.

“If this is not resolved soon, there will be chaos,” he said. “We will have hundreds of thousands of extremely angry commuters on our hands. Our country cannot afford a crisis of such proportions.”

The dispute began at the end of last year when the SA Bus Operators’ Association was informed that its budget for the financial year had been exhausted. This meant it would not be given subsidies from November until the end of March. The new budget would then be outlined in April.

Golden Arrow executive director Barry Gie in the founding affidavit. “The remaining transport services available to the public are simply not adequate to deal with the need that will arise.”

The provincial Transport and Public Works Department said it was “doing everything it can to ensure that the money due to Golden Arrow is paid”.

GOING UNDER: The transport union will lobby Parliament today to bail out bus operator Golden Arrow. Golden Arrow indicated in court papers that if the money was not received by the end of the month, the company would collapse. This would result in a transport crisis, leaving hundreds of thousands of cotmuters stranded, it said. “1 can confidently state that it will result in a transport crisis in the metropolitan area as there is no readily available transport alternative,”

Source: Cape Argus – Leila Samsodien