Free ride comes to an end

At first glance it looked like South Africa’s first fuel-price riot. But the stoning of buses in central Johannesburg last week had nothing to do with the latest price hike, according to Metro Bus spokesperson Noluthando Msutu.

The real grievance, Msutu said, was the termination of free transfers between zones by Metro Bus.

In effect passengers travelling from areas outside the CBD will now pay two fares, one into the CBD and another for the journey onwards to suburbs such as Bryanston.

Furious morning commuters reacted to the change, combined with scheduled July 1 fare increases, by stoning buses, barricading streets and pulling passengers from their seats. But by Wednesday morning commuters seemed resigned to their fate.

From midnight on Tuesday South Africans faced their seventh fuel price increase this year, with petrol rising 70c to R10,40. The average price of diesel, which is deregulated, now stands at about R12.

But Msutu dismissed this as a coincidence, as Metro Bus happened to raise its fares once a year on July 1. “We can’t go back and change the prices again.

“We take later fuel increases into consideration and work them into the financial report [to the city] for the next year.”

She said that in the fare transfer system about 228 000 journeys a month were not paid for, equivalent to 80 free buses.

Commuters, who still face hefty increases, will not find comfort in Metro Bus’s explanation.

Those travelling from Soweto to Sandton five days a week will now pay R373,70 a month, instead of the previous R263,40.

Fares will now be graded according to zones. Orange Grove to town, for example, is a zone one trip which will cost passengers R177,30 a month for a five-day- a-week commute, up from R115,20.

From the CBD to Bryanston—zone one to zone five—will cost R341, up from R263,40.

Msutu said that the size of the subsidy Metro Bus receives from the city depends on whether it breaks even during the year.

“We take our estimates to the city, which decides on the subsidy. We then consider the size of the fare increase.”

This week’s fuel price hike, and others expected by year-end, might mean that the service will fail to make ends meet.

“So before the financial year end we will again approach the city and tell them we are not breaking even and ask to be further subsidised.”

Putco, Johannesburg’s other bus operator, also implemented a 10% fare increase from the beginning of July in terms of the company’s contract with the government, said Putco spokesperson Matlakala Motloung.

“The fuel-related component is 4% and another increase is likely in October. We are trying to cushion the impact of rising costs by increasing in phases,” Motloung said.

Despite rising fares, she said Putco had seen a steady increase in passenger volumes, which she ascribed to burgeoning construction activity in Gauteng. “Increased job creation opportunities brought about by the building of stadiums, shopping centres, houses, the promotion of public transport by government and so on has seen more people commuting to work by bus,” she said.

The government subsidises Putco, based either on kilometres travelled or the number of passengers carried.


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