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Bus operator intimidation in South Africa unpacked

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Bus operator intimidation can be addressed

Johan Pienaar, the manager of Vaal Maseru Bus Service, says bus operator intimidation is still a major problem in South Africa.

“One of the biggest reasons for the intimidation is the over-trading of transport routes,” he says.

He says bus operator intimidation takes place in many forms in South Africa and includes the physical intimidation of operators, drivers and passengers.

Pienaar spent weeks phoning SABOA members to understand the issue better.

Below are some of his findings, which describe the different types of intimidation tactics employed and provides some ideas on how the problem can be addressed.

As we’ve seen recently with Uber, the main culprits of small bus operator intimidation come from the various taxi operators.

“Taxi operators use intimidation to force small bus operators not to tender/serve “corporate clients” or to withdraw from commercial contracts,” he says.

“It is also done to stop bus operators from picking up passengers from certain areas for private hires/specials, at least not before a fee is paid to a taxi association.”

SABOA members told Pienaar that much intimidation occurs at pick-up and drop-off points in townships when passengers are collected or delivered, or when they schedule long-distance services.

“There is further intimidation to operate duplicate services within the framework of approved timetables,” he explains.

The intimidation occurs equally on scheduled inter-city services as interprovincial ones.

“Bus operators are told they cannot enter into a contract with an existing client in another city or region while existing commercial contracts are forcibly stopped and taken over by taxis.”

Pienaar says taxi associations believe their areas of operation belong exclusively to them.

“If one bus departs from point A to point B, then it will not be allowed to load bus 2 and 3 from point A to point B. Passengers are forced to wait for taxis to do this shuttle – with increased tariffs.”

There are also illegal bus operators who provide a service without the required permits because they “share the market” or “buy” the loading time from taxis.

Bus passengers are subjected to physical intimidation, are forcefully removed from buses and are assaulted.

“There is no freedom of choice or freedom of association. Passengers are forced and intimidated to make use of transport modes against their will. Taxi fares are usually more expensive, with bus passengers forced to pay the higher prices.”

Pienaar says organised transport sometimes make use of special tariffs and loyalty initiatives. But when passengers do not have freedom of choice, this advantage cannot be utilised.

He is also wary of driver fatigue among taxi drivers.

“The utilisation of 14-seater taxi’s on long-distance routes of 400km and more – with one driver – does not always make for an efficient, safe mode of transport,” he warns.

Pienaar says entrepreneurs from designated groups, through hard work and dedication, are trying to establish and grow their businesses. Many of them come from the taxi industry but want to formalise and become more organised.

But, as a result of intimidation, smaller long-distance operators with two to five buses simply stop their operations.

“Some bus operators are intimidated into agreements with taxi associations to reduce their fleets. They promise not to buy additional buses so as to merely survive and not expand their bus operations,” Pienaar explains.

Larger companies with commercial bus contracts sometimes stop their bus operations in certain areas and retrench staff, as the risk to life and equipment is too great.

While it is not possible for local SAPS branches to enforce the law in all the areas they are deployed in, the country requires concerted law enforcement that does not merely pay lip service to the bus industry. Bribery and personal involvement in these matters do not help the situation.

Pienaar’s recommendations to stop bus operator intimidation:

  • SAPS members that are directly or indirectly involved in taxi businesses must be disciplined
  • An elite, special task force that is independent and which reports to a higher authority, must be created to enforce the law and arrest intimidators
  • This task force must also concentrate on corrupt police officials and law enforcers
  • The government must progressively formalise and assist taxi operators form co-ops to create stronger capital units that can enter the bus market
  • Ranks and informal loading points must be monitored. Only vehicles with a valid permit/operating license should be allowed to enter the rank and load passengers
  • Political will is needed to restore freedom of choice for passengers
  • Fair competition must be based on service delivery and the restructure of law enforcement agencies
  • PRE and the CBRTA should effectively and efficiently regulate the market.
  • The over-trading of routes must be monitored

“It will never be to the advantage of the travelling public that a transport monopoly exists, regardless of mode. Rather, these two modes of transport must complement each other, with each mode utilised for the purpose it serves best,” he concludes

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