Bus company ‘being forced out’

2012-09-28 00:00

A MELMOTH-BASED bus company says it is being forced out of business, after Mthonjaneni Municipality in effect blockaded it by closing all the roads that lead to its premises.

Late last week, the municipality put up a notice stating that four roads around the block where the depot is based have been closed to all vehicles designed to carry 18 or more passengers.

Any person driving a bus within the demarcated area will be prosecuted. The closure will be in effect for six months, until March 2.

The municipality says the bus company is operating illegally, as its site is zoned for “core mixed use” and neighbours have complained about their operation.

The council turned down a special consent application lodged by the company.

After that, in January, BTI Coachlines lodged an appeal with the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), an appeal that has yet to be concluded.

Ladysmith-based director of BTI Coachlines, Saeed Bhayla, said he found it strange that the municipality could take such harsh action while the appeal was pending.

“Doing business in that town [Melmoth] has been a nightmare,” he said.

He said the bus company had been “pushed between a rock and a hard place”. It was forced off its previous premises by the municipality when the Melmoth shopping centre was built on the site where the bus company operated from, and he had explored every option to find an alternative site.

“We run a professional business and safety is important to us. You can’t run such an operation from the side of the road.”

The firm’s attempts at negotiation had also been thwarted. Shortly before a meeting scheduled for September 18, the municipality called it off without explanation and had not yet set a new date.

BTI Coachlines’ manager in Melmoth, Vicky Ramputh, said: “The implementation of their threats came suddenly and without notice. So far, it has not been enforced; our drivers have not been apprehended. Our head office is trying to communicate with the municipality to find a way forward.”

Ramputh had warned in June that if the bus company was forced to withdraw from Melmoth, it would be devastating for the town.

“It will affect everyone,” he said.

“Businesses and households will not have staff and the retail sector will be hit hard because commuters come to shop here. In many of the areas we run our service, there is not even an alternative taxi service.”

On contract to the Department of Transport, which subsidises the buses, BTI Coachlines daily brings in about 2 000 commuters including workers, pensioners and schoolchildren from the rural areas.

“These are poor people, coming into town for pensions or to buy provisions. Some travel 74 kilometres from home and back again,” Ramputh said.

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