Durban names bus operator tomorrow

IT'S official: the Transnat Africa bus company will sign on the dotted line tomorrow to run Durban's city-wide bus service.

Analysts were still speculating about which company would take over the service after embattled Remant Alton closed shop at the end of June, leaving thousands of bus commuters stranded.

Transnat's chief executive officer, Mike Jesserman, yesterday said the contract needed "final touches". He said the contract would be worth between R240million and R300million.

The buses will remain municipal property and will be leased to the new operator. The city will also maintain the fleet.

Transnat is based in Newcastle and operates in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and in North West.

The company owns Ikhwezi Bus Service in Empangeni; Sizanani MaZulu in Pietermaritzburg; Imondlo Bus Service in Vryheid; Express Liners and Gauteng Coaches, which run between Johannesburg and Durban.

Transnat has been operating for more than 14 years, Jesserman said.

"We are in the final stages of the agreement process. There was a delay that was caused by a pending court case by employees who were retrenched by the previous operator. This matter is going back to court on Monday. We need to clear that," he said.

Jesserman was confident that the contract would be signed tomorrow.

"The earliest that the buses will begin running is July 20. The first 100 buses should be on the road by then. We will take it slowly until we have a fleet of 250 buses on the road.

"The buses that operate routes in the city will continue. Our contract will not include the operation of inner-city buses," he said.

He said the inner-city bus operation would be run by the taxi operators.

"We feel that the inner-city operation is more of a taxi business. It is our understanding that there is probably a memorandum of understanding between taxi operators and the municipality."

But the Kwazulu-Natal Transport Alliance, which represents thousands of taxi operators in the province, claimed it had not been approached.

"We were made to understand that the city was in the process of appointing a new operator. We're not involved," said alliance spokesperson Bafana Mhlongo.

Thousands of commuters in and around Durban were left stranded after BEE operator Remant Alton abruptly stopped its operation.

Remant Alton was awarded a contract to operate the city's buses in 2003. Commuters started complaining about poor service immediately thereafter. Then hundreds of bus drivers went on a crippling strike over wages and poor working conditions.

Transnat Africa bus company will run the service until October 2010.