The Public Utility Transport Corporation (PUTCO) bus company has been, and continues to be, under heavy public criticism following deadly incidents involving its buses where the lives of many innocent commuters were lost and some sustained critical injuries, yet the Gauteng Department of Roads and Transport irregularly extends its contract.
Last year, a PUTCO bus carrying passengers caught fire on the road and six passengers died while many sustained critical injuries. This incident happened along the deadly Moloto Road, and it was not long after another PUTCO bus which was not carrying passengers at the time, burnt on the N1 in Pretoria.
These are two of many incidents that have occurred, and the residents of Gauteng have been complaining about poor services delivery by PUTCO buses. They claim that some of the buses are not roadworthy, they are old, always having breakdowns and do not honour pick-up points.
Residents concerned about their safety on the road took the matter to the Public Protector who revealed that PUTCO bus company has been illegally benefiting from the irregular extension of its contracts by the Gauteng Department of Transport since 1997.
According to the report, the PUTCO bus contract which was initially awarded to the company for only 136 weeks in 1997, has been renewed without due process being followed until now causing an unfair competitive advantage for PUTCO. Shockingly, the Public Protector also found that 108 other bus contracts were extended irregularly and that there was a lack of proper performance management.
This confirms the DA’s stance that the quality of transport available to Gauteng commuters has deteriorated to the extent that bus services have become death traps for commuters.
Introducing proper competition in the provision of public bus transport for consumers will improve the quality of services offered.
Furthermore, many bus companies that have been operating in Gauteng had to close operations due to financial challenges leaving hundreds of people jobless. Should this tender be advertised regularly as it supposed to be, it will save many jobs and ensure that a quality service is rendered instead of a one monopoly company for over two decades.
The revelation by the Public Protector comes after various MECs for Roads and Transport had promised to advertise the bus contracts but failed to deliver on their promises. We question why PUTCO has been a preferred service provider while there are hundreds of other bus companies in Gauteng.
While there have been some legal challenges to the issuing of bus contract tenders, the department also failed to manage its supply chain management processes properly.
Only now that the Public Protector has entered the fray is there movement in advertising these tenders.
The DA will continue to demand access to proper, reliable, and safe public transport for the residents of Gauteng. We will also continue to pressure the department to introduce competition in the public transport market by regularly advertising tenders for bus services.
The DA’s solution is that government must invest in rail and BRT services on the current routes being serviced by these bus contracts, which are unsustainable in the long run.