THOUSANDS of cash-strapped commuters in and around Durban will again feel the pinch when the city's bus service, which is operated by embattled bus company Remant Alton, shuts down at the end of month.

Durban mayor Obed Mlaba officially announced that the bus company had informed the city that the current contract was "financially unsustainable and that they would cease operations from the end of this month.

"The city deeply regrets the effect this announcement will have on commuters who are dependent on public transport," Mlaba said.

"We give the assurance that everything possible will be done to get a new service back on track with minimum delay.

"We will endeavour to impress it on Metrorail and other public transport operators that they should come to the assistance of our commuters."

One of the biggest problems with this contract, which dates to October 2003, has been the lack of adequate funding from the national Department of Transport.

"In spite of countless appeals the only relief has been of a short-term nature and from April 1 2009 the subsidy funding has been reduced by R1,7million a month," he said.

He said the eThekwini Transport Authority has for several months now been working on options for the way forward.

These options now have to be workshopped with role-players from all three spheres of government and a recommendation will be presented to the city.

In March this year the bus service was suspended by the city after Remant Alton said it could not continue the operation with only 150 buses out of the 500 initial fleet in operation.

The suspension affected at least 45000 commuters.

Remant Alton, a BEE company, was awarded the contract to operate the city's buses in 2003 at R70million. Soon after the takeover complaints from commuters about the poor service delivery escalated and a series of worker strikes ensued.

In September last years the eThekwini municipality bought back the buses at R405 million. The deal at the time was that the bus company would run and maintain the vehicles and employ the staff.

Economic expert Bonke Dumisa said while the bus company and city should be held accountable for the service "now was not the time to make such demands".

He said: "The crucial factor now is what to do about the commuters who will suffer?"