Bus fare increases a burden to workers

SATAWU believes that the poor and the working class have to bear the brunt of the worsening economic conditions that they did not create. Photo by Tate Mikkelsen

Recent bus fare increases by Golden Arrow Bus Services in Cape Town add to the burdens that workers and their families are expected to carry.

An agreement has been reached between Golden Arrow Bus Services (GABS) and the Western Cape Provincial Department of Transport and Public Works to increase bus fares by an average of 5 percent to offset increased operational expenses.

Zanele Sabela, the media officer of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, said the increased bus fare is “yet another blow for workers who have had to absorb the 1 percent hike in VAT on the back of rising inflation.”

Statistics South Africa shows that poor households spend most of their incomes on food and transportation, and food inflation has already been difficult on the working class.

“The truth is bus companies increase fares on an annual basis. Last year bus companies hiked fares by on average 7 percent,” said Sabela. “It is ironic that during the bus strike, employers said if they acceded to unions’ pay demands they would have to raise bus fares to make up the wage increase. But now GABS along with four other companies have applied to be exempted from the pay hike.”

In April, bus drivers embarked on a strike to demand better working conditions, including the end of the ‘foot on the pedal’ practice of only paying a driver for the time they were actually driving and for the industry to comply with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) when it comes to the night shift.

In a press release, GABS cited a 30 percent fuel increase in the past year as the main reason for the fare increase, adding that the 3,7 percent increase in public transportation operational subsidies could not cover the escalations.

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Sabela said that the working class is bearing the brunt of worsening economic conditions and have no option but to absorb them.

With a lengthy commute into the city a reality for many, the fares to and from home have become less affordable. Workers and the poor have been known to sleep in parks during the week because the transport costs of returning home are too high.

Two women standing in a GABS bus line told Elitsha that the increase has been difficult on them and if fares are increased again they will stop using the service. Both women said they spend a significant part of their time and income on travel. “It’s killing us,” said Mandisa Nyantaza who has been relying on GABS for 20 years. “When the buses were on strike it affected us a lot and after the shock of losing business because of it they raised ticket prices.”

Amanda Makhatini, who has a two- to three-hour bus ride to work everyday, said she believes the employers should be coming up with other ways to cover operational costs instead of raising the fee for commuters.

“No one is informing us of what’s happening and the next step is traveling with a taxi because a taxi is quicker and they don’t overload us like Golden Arrow does,” she said.

Natalie Joshua, who was waiting in line for a bus to Mitchell’s Plain, said that since prices were raised, she would be unable to afford transportation.“It’s not fair they raised it. I won’t be able to take the bus and I could lose my job,” said Joshua.

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Public Transport Voices, an NGO based in Khayelitsha that tackles public transport issues, objected to the bus fare hike. “We feel that they were supposed to hold some community consultations before taking the decision because this 6 to 7 percent increment is too much for the working class people,” said Dalton Ndongeni, media representative for PTV.

“By looking at this percentage it seems to us as if we are paying for the loss of profit during their wage strike and also buses that are torched during service delivery strikes,” said Ndongeni. He said that GABS should prioritise fixing the challenges that are encountered by commuters on a daily basis, like bus routes that are too far from their residential areas.

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