Millions of commuters could be left stranded from next month if the national department of transport does not pay out a R1.2-billion bus subsidy, the SA Bus Operators Association (Saboa) said on Monday.
"This is indeed a sad day for the industry and passengers," said Saboa's vice president Adolph Komane, at its offices in Johannesburg.
He said almost three million passenger trips and a total of 1.5 million passengers would be affected each day, if subsidies were not paid out.
Saboa had been told that efforts by the department to obtain money from the Treasury had also failed.
"The reason this has been left for so late in the year is because we expected the Treasury to come up with something," Komane said.
He said efforts to get the department to discuss the matter further had not been fruitful.
"We constantly get no feedback from the department: they were even invited to the press conference today, but did not respond."
Bus fares at affordable levels
Saboa executive manager Eric Cornelius said the bus subsidies were paid to keep bus fares at affordable levels for commuters who mostly had low incomes.
"Without bus subsidies the fares would have to more than double, or the industry may have to withdraw its services to reduce direct operating costs, and to protect their employees," Cornelius said.
Transport economist and adviser to Saboa Jackie Walters said the industry might have to raise its fares by more than 100 percent.
He said the disruption of bus transport would be damaging for the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.
Saboa says it represents 75 percent of bus companies in South Africa. It operates more than 9000 buses on long and short distance routes across the country.
Managing directors for Putco, Franco Pisapia, and Brakpan Bus Company, Elias Matengye, said that 75 percent of their income came from the subsidies.
Putco and Brakpan are both Saboa members.
"The situation is critical. Without those subsidies we are not able to operate," said Pisapia.
Inform commuters about crisis
"We are in consultation with community representatives to inform commuters about the crisis," he said.
Saboa said it intended to file an urgent court application against the transport department.
"I can confirm that we have been advising Saboa, in relation to the bus subsidy matter," said lawyer Robin Carr of Bowman Gilfillan attorneys.
The application would be filed by next week, and the matter was expected to be heard in mid-January next year, Carr said. Transport Department spokesperson Collen Msibi said the matter was taken up with President Kgalema Motlanthe and with Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel.
"We are just waiting for a response...the shortfall is due to passenger growth and fuel price increases recently."
He said the department had only received a R2.8-billion subsidy from the National Treasury to subsidise more than 7000 buses.
Regarding the court matter, Msibi said: "People have a right to exercise their legal options."