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Putco bus services will resume on Friday after high-level talks between the company, Gauteng roads and transport department and premier Panyaza Lesufi on Thursday.

This comes after more than 230,000 passengers were stranded when the company halted its operations due to a diesel shortage. Putco said it had not received subsidies from the provincial department needed to operate its fleet of 1,400 buses after diesel stocks ran low on Wednesday.

Putco spokesperson Lindokuhle Xulu said the company fleet burns 3-million litres of diesel a month. A litre of diesel costs about R20.49, meaning the company spends R61.4m monthly on fuel.

The halt to Putco operations comes barely three weeks after the bus sector signed a 7% pay increase deal for the 35,000 workers employed in the industry in April.

In September 2022, Putco employees embarked on a wildcat strike demanding implementation of the 6% pay rise signed in 2020.

Putco had applied for exemption from implementing the wage deal, saying Covid-19 affected it negatively.

After high-level talks on Thursday, Putco MD Franco Pisapia told reporters that the company did not have enough money because of long-term “underfunding” of contracts entered into with the provincial government.

“Most bus companies find themselves in the same predicament. The fuel price has [increased] 110% in the last period and that has affected all bus companies,” Pisapia said.

Gauteng roads and transport MEC Kedibone Diale-Tlabela said her department had engaged all bus operators in the province and was “finalising negotiations” as it wanted to ensure an affordable and reliable bus service for the people of Gauteng.

Lesufi acknowledged challenges facing the sector, saying: “We have been very sympathetic to the fuel increase [and] parts increase [but we] don’t have legal standing as a province to attend to that. When something of this nature happens, you think about ordinary people who wake up every morning, [who do not] have extra cash [for alternative modes of transport].”

Lesufi said parties needed to strengthen their dispute resolution mechanisms and made an undertaking the issue would be resolved. “They [bus operators] will be sorted out. Hopefully this matter will be resolved. We call on Putco to improve their service, replenish their stock; [buy] new fleet [to] attract more passengers to use their service,” the premier said.

Earlier on Thursday, department of roads & transport spokesperson Melitah Madiba said the department’s payment to Putco for March was captured and will only reflect in Putco’s bank account on Monday.

“Delays in processing subsidised bus operators’ payments for March are a result of a widely known procedure and trend. The public transport operating grant is only transferred to the province by the national department of transport in the first week of May each financial year,” she said.

Xulu said passengers who have bought a monthly or weekly ticket will be reimbursed for their lost trips.

Xulu could not say how much the bus company would receive from the department for the March period, explaining: “We can’t quantify at this stage. We work on a kilometre-based system, the kilometres that we travel is the rate we are paid per kilometre. We submit supporting documents on how many kilometres we travel in one month and they pay us from the department as a subsidy. It varies from one month to another.”

He said the bus industry was underfunded and on the brink of collapse with many service providers throwing in the towel in recent months. This was due to “drastic increases” in the fuel price and other operating costs, among others.

“We are in a dire situation,” Xulu said. Asked about the effect of the sector’s 7% pay rise, the Putco spokesperson said: “We are feeling every cent that moves out of the company.”

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