Busload of woes for BCM

The wheels are falling off Buffalo City Metro’s municipal bus service and a new study could help to finally provide an answer about what to do with a public transport system that has failed.

These conclusions are drawn from a damning report tabled before BCM council last month by the metro’s head of spatial planning and development, Nonceba Mbali-Majeng, which revealed that the suburban bus routes have run at a loss of R48-million in the past eight years.

Mbali-Majeng’s report and the comments of BCM spatial planning and development portfolio committee head councillor Pumla Nazo-Makatala suggest that years of neglect, under-budgeting, and lack of focus on transformation has left the metro with a poorly operated, loss-making and suburban system which does not service the broader public.

Their comments make it clear that failure to replace the buses meant the once-strong fleet had dwindled to a handful of vehicles, which had the knock-on negative effect of making some of the buses too old to qualify for national public transport funding.

Nazo-Makatala went further, saying the metro had inherited a bus system with minority-focused routes from the apartheid era, but despite its skewed nature, nothing had ever been done by the new democratic government to transform the system and extend the service to the broader public.

Mbali-Majeng reported that between the 2006 and 2017 financial years, the metro lost R47.9-million after investing millions in a bus system which had failed to generate much-needed income over the years.

After inheriting 33 buses from the Amathole District Municipality in 2003, BCM now has only five large buses and one small bus to service its residents, mainly pupils, in some East London suburbs. Of these five buses, only three are in a “reasonable condition” while two “are 16 and 19 years old and in a poor condition”, Mbali-Majeng wrote in her report.

She warned that buses should not be more than five years old in order to qualify for a national public transport network grant (PTNG).

“The municipality has a 28-seater bus that is four years old and is in a reasonable condition. The fleet size has reduced drastically due to almost no recapitalisation due to budget constraints and delays in the implementation of a public transport service that is fully funded by the national government.”

In addition to the already existing R47.9-million operating deficit, the proposed procuring of an additional 10 buses will increase the deficit.

As a result, Mbali-Majeng said the proposal to add more buses “cannot be implemented”.

The current routes are:

lCollondale (West Bank);

lCambridge;

lCollondale (Dawn);

lDorchester (Nahoon);

lAmalinda; and

lAmalinda-Baysville.

Additional routes for shopping were listed as the Amalinda-Baysville and Amalinda-Cambridge routes.

Spatial planning and development portfolio head councillor Pumla Nazo-Makatala said a study had been conducted by the city to investigate the bus service system and a final draft report received this year.

“The study was to guide us as the city on the way forward in connection to this matter. As such we will organise a workshop for all councillors to analyse the study so that we can make an informed decision about the service going forward.

“We inherited the bus system from the previous government and the system only catered for certain areas. That system was never changed. Now the study says the buses must focus on BCM as a whole in order to get profit and that we should run a bus service that is available to everyone,” Nazo-Makatala said, adding that although the metro was running the system at a loss, BCM could not just abort the system as other residents preferred using buses as opposed to other modes of transport.

DA councillor Marion Mackly, who sits on the Spatial Planning and Development Portfolio Committee, said BCM could learn from other metros on how to implement a modern integrated public transport system.

“It must be a reliable bus service – in other words it must follow the route that it is supposed to follow and we would possibly need a spare bus for when breakdowns occur. And it must be a service that is on time.” — mamelag@dispatch.co.za.

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