Commuters In Dilemma As Provincial Government Plans To End Bus Contracts

The future of thousands of bus commuters hangs in the balance because the Gauteng department of roads and transport wants to dump a number of bus contracts on municipalities.

The department manages 34 bus contracts in the province‚ which for years have been a headache for provincial government‚ it told the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) in the Gauteng legislature on Friday.

But Scopa is not happy with the department’s position.

The auditor-general’s report for the department’s 2016/17 financial year identified bus subsidies as irregular expenditure of about R2-billion.

During the audit process‚ the department did not provide the actual number of subsidised routes‚ kilometres and trips. Instead‚ it relied on historical information in the original bus contracts‚ the report before the committee stated on Friday.

“Until we have electronic monitoring in place‚ we are going to have a problem with this‚” said department head Ronald Swartz.

He told the committee that bus contracts had contributed significantly to irregular expenditure for three successive years.

“Our view has been since the current contracts expire on March 31 next year‚ as a province‚ we would want to reduce our responsibility for this. We’ve already given notice to the national department that we will not take further responsibility for the Moloto Road corridor‚ which is probably about half of the budget that we have available.

“We are in discussion for them to take this over. The national department [of transport] would like to extend the contracts for another three years. That means another three years of irregular expenditure. Our view is that we don’t support an extension.

He said tenders for five out of the eight contracts will be advertised in the next week or so.

“We are working closely with Tshwane and Sedibeng [municipalities] which will be a joint programme that will allow us also to develop skills and eventually they will take over those contracts. The MEC [Ismail Vadi] has written to both the minister [of transport Joe Maswanganyi] and the mayor of Jo’burg [Herman Mashaba] that‚ as from April 1‚ contracts‚ particularly in the Soweto area‚ will have to be taken over by the City of Jo’burg.

“We want services to be continued for the people. There must not be disruption and the department must give us a sense of that. We did not get a sense of that. They need to plan properly”

“We are reducing the number of contracts that we are managing. On the new contracts that will be advertised‚ part of the condition is that there must be electronic monitoring of the trips and that will assist us in the collection of information‚” said Swartz.

But Scopa chairperson Mbongeni Radebe raised serious issues with the move to end contracts and transfer them to cities.

“We will invite the department again to explain more around their vision on bus contracts. We don’t think they can just be dumped on the municipalities‚” he said‚ warning that this could result in a situation similar to the social grants debacle if it is not managed carefully.

“We want services to be continued for the people. There must not be disruption and the department must give us a sense of that. We did not get a sense of that. They need to plan properly‚” Radebe said.

“They spoke about five contracts that they are going to give away. We need to know how they decided on the five.

“We also need to get a sense whether municipalities are ready to manage the bus contract. You can’t just dump them on municipalities when they not ready. Sedibeng is a small municipality for them to be expected to manage bus contracts‚” he added.

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