Bus ticket to nowhere

Gugulethu resident Mmeli Ngoma spent R400 on a bus ticket so that he could visit his sick brother in Johannesburg.

The bus was scheduled to leave Cape Town station at 11am on Tuesday October 18, but on his way into the city centre, Mr Ngoma’s car broke down. Unable to get a lift, he waited for his car to be repaired and as a result, missed his bus.

Now he is furious because long distance bus carrier Eldo has apparently been unwilling to meet him halfway by offering him a seat on another bus, with the option of paying a penalty. Instead, they say, Mr Ngoma should buy another bus ticket – which he cannot afford.

The office of the Consumer Protector, however, said the bus company was under no obligation to offer Mr Ngoma a seat on a later bus, or a refund.

When he got to the station on Tuesday, said Mr Ngoma, he walked straight to Eldo’s offices, but was informed he could not be helped and his ticket was declared “invalid”.

He said he explained to staff and pleaded with them to re-book

and allow him to board a later bus. He said he even offered to pay a penalty charge, but was simply advised to buy another one.

M Ngoma said when he demanded to speak to a manager, he was told to phone the customer care line.

But when he called the customer care line, he was told to read their terms and conditions online – this depite him trying to explain that he needed to be in Johannesburg the next day to see his sick brother. “I feel that the company has robbed me,” he said. “I did not miss my bus on purpose. This is unfair. I am just frustrated by this whole situation. I don’t know what to do now. My brother is waiting for me.”

Mr Ngoma said he does not have more money and vowed to lay a formal complaint against the company. But he does not know where to go.

When Vukani contacted the company, we too were sent from pillar to post, with everyone we spoke to refusing to give us their names.

A woman who only described herself as a “Johannesburg-based manager” said according to the company policy, the tickets of people who miss their buses immediately become invalid. She said she was certain that the staff who sold the ticket to Mr Ngoma would have explained their policy and procedures.

But the more questions Vukani asked, the more irritated she became and eventually dropped the call.

The bad news for Mr Ngoma is that according to the Consumer Protection Act, the consumer must give the company a “reasonable time” to make any cancellation.

Deputy director in the Consumer Protector’s office, Phineas Ncube, said the company had acted within its rights and that it had been the responsibility of the consumer to arrive on time at the bus station.

“If Mr Ngoma arrived on time but he could not board the bus maybe because it was full, then the company should take responsibility to ensure that they provide transport for him.

“We should also take into considerations that these people are in businesses and we should not kill their business. If the company maybe decided to charge a penalty fee and allow (Mr Ngoma) to re-book a seat on a later bus, they would have been merely doing a favour because they are not required to do that,” he said.