Pretoria - Bus operator AutoPax was unable to start its engines on its first day in Mamelodi amid protests from taxi operators in a move that left scores of commuters stranded across the sprawling township.
Autopax buses took over Putco routes after the latter’s decision not to renew contracts on certain routes, citing loss of income as one of its reasons.
When they did not see buses passing by this morning, commuters went to the depot, and found only City to City buses still parked inside.
Taxi operators told them they would not be allowed to board the new buses and should use taxis instead.
Commuters refused, leading to a heated debate. Police intervened and separated the two sides to opposite sides of the road.
Mamelodi Transport Solution task team member and taxi operator Steve Chauke told City Press that they wanted to take over some of the routes abandoned by Putco.
“The thing is that we are stakeholders in this industry but the government never consulted us when Putco stopped operating on these routes. They are now bringing in government-owned buses and we won’t allow them to operate here until we are consulted,” he said.
“We want in and we don’t mind sharing with other bus operators as long as we also benefit from the routes and subsidies. We are prepared and are at an advanced stage with a ticketing system for which commuters will be able to buy monthly or weekly tickets for taxis.”
Commuters, however, were not interested in taxis. Maria Baloyi was supposed to have caught her bus at 5am to Centurion, where she works in a factory.
“I came to the depot only to find that buses are being blocked and we are forced to catch taxis but that’s not what we’re prepared to do. Taxis are expensive and drivers are very rude and disrespectful,” she said.
“I used to spend R659 on a monthly ticket with Putco and catching two taxis to Centurion is going to cost my whole salary.”
Another commuter, Getrude Mothupi, said she had used Putco buses for about 15 years and that they were convenient.
“With taxis I am going to have to walk three kilometres to catch one, not to mention the drivers’ rudeness. We just want buses as long as fares are not changed,” Mothupi said.
Police officers and metro police members from Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg were on site at the Mamelodi depot, where commuters have now been allowed inside.
Passengers were earlier allowed into buses but when they saw this, taxi drivers held an impromptu meeting.
Officials decided not to take any risks and kept the buses inside. The situation was tense as taxi operators refused even Putco buses entry into their own depot. Putco buses driving through Mamelodi from KwaMhlanga were seen operating this morning.
After Putco’s withdrawal, the provincial roads and transport department had made a contingency plan in AutoPax and had not forseen the problems in Mamelodi.
Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport Ismail Vadi announced yesterday that Autopax was going to operate the eight affected contracts that were not renewed by Putco as of yesterday.
He said his department had entered into a temporary three-month contract with Autopax to ensure continuity of services to the commuters in the affected areas of Mamelodi, Midvaal and Kathorus.
“I am pleased that there will be no disruption of bus services to the public [because of the] short-term agreement with Autopax,” Vadi said.