Thousands of learners and workers who use buses daily could be left stranded if government fails to pay subsidies it owes to 70 bus companies.
Provincial and privately-owned bus operators qualify for monthly subsidies from the transport department.
But, the bus companies with operations in all nine provinces say they last received payment in November. The transport department has told the operators it has a shortage of funds estimated at R1,2billion.
Eric Cornelius, executive manager of the Southern Africa Bus Operators Association (Saboa), said yesterday if the situation was not resolved urgently, bus operators would be forced to cut services leaving school children and workers scrambling for alternative means of transportation.
Saboa is taking government to court over defaulted subsidy payments and yesterday filed court papers against the national departments of transport and finance seeking a court order which will force government to honour its contractual obligation. The case will go before the Transvaal high court in Pretoria next Thursday.
The bus operators have already sent letters to the Minister of Transport and MECs across the country, but there has been no response.
Cornelius said: "It goes without saying that if the government doesn't respond urgently to this crisis, services will be withdrawn and this will leave a lot of commuting school children and workers stranded.
"It also doesn't paint a good picture as far as the hosting of the 2010 world cup is concerned because it suggests our country doesn't prioritise basics such as paying government subsides."
Cornelius said some operators had stopped paying their suppliers as a way of saving money for wages.
According to the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union this defaulting of payments by government might result in job losses of about 30000 workers.
Jane Barrett, the union's policy research officer, said: "Government should pay because if it doesn't honour the contracts, bus companies won't afford to pay workers and this will result in job losses.
Stephen Sangweni, president of the South African Commuters Organisation, said: "Commuters are victims even tough they remain to be loyal taxpayers."
The transport department could not be reached.