Thousands of frustrated bus commuters across the province and the country were left stranded yesterday, Wednesday April 12, after bus drivers downed tools, following a deadlock over wage talks. They could face the same situation until the strike is over.
Yesterday, disgruntled workers embarked on an indefinite strike after their employers refused to give a 15% wage increase.
The employers have tabled a 9% offer. As a result, thousands of workers who commute to work were left stranded yesterday as both MyCiTi and Golden Arrow buses suspended their operations.
Commuters had to seek alternative transport, putting pressure on already pressurised trains and taxis.
With the start of the Easter weekend tomorrow, Friday April 14, many commuters have expressed concerns, saying they did not know how long the strike would take, and whether they would have buses to transport them for Easter festivities.
Anger and frustration were written all over the faces of the commuters at the Site C taxi rank as hundreds of people joined long queues, desperately waiting for taxis.
As early as 5am, commuters began queuing up for taxis at various taxi ranks across the province. Arguments broke out when other commuters tried to jump the long lines.
Commuters told Vukani the bus strike was already taking its toll on their pockets and they were feeling its brunt.
A visibly frustrated Nwabisa Ntanjana said she had an appointment at 8am in Cape Town. She had to wait in the queue for more than an hour, having arrived at the taxi rank before 6am, which she thought would be early enough.
Mr Ntanjana said he had thought about taking a train, but she feared that the trains would be unreliable and opted to make use of the taxi instead.
“I urgently need to be in town before eight clock and the time now is past seven and yet I’m still standing at the back and I had been here for a while now. I hope this can end soon because these taxis are not able to accommodate these volumes of people,” she said.
Another commuter, Msindisi Phangalele, said he had been waiting in the queue for nearly an hour and a half. He said he lives in Kuyasa and usually takes the MyCiTi bus to town but he had to take a taxi from Kuyasa to Site C and another one to work. He said he was spending money which he did not budgeted for. “My fear is how will I get back home tonight and now I wish I had a car,” he said
The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry said nearly 300 000 people used buses in Cape Town every working day and warned that the impact would be felt throughout the city.
“It comes at a time when Metrorail is underperforming and running at close to capacity during commuting hours, leaving commuters with very few alternatives but private cars and taxis,” said Janine Myburgh, president of the chamber. “This would cost both time and money in terms of taxi fees and lost productivity.”
Ms Myburgh appealed to employers to be understanding and urged motorists to give colleagues lifts wherever possible. “In fact, this might be a good time to start lift clubs and plan car-sharing schemes for the future. Perhaps this is a crisis we should use to find new ways to beat Cape Town’s traffic congestion problems.”
However, she could not predict the impact on economy, saying it would depend on the duration of the strike. “It comes at a very bad time for business as April has three public holidays and we lost business during the protests last week. In addition, the month has also brought us the credit down grade so the combined effects will be serious but almost impossible to quantify at this stage.”
Ms Myburgh pointed out that some areas would suffer more than others. “MyCiTi has been providing a good service to Milnerton and beyond and with no rail alternative we can expect monster traffic jams.”
Ms Myburgh said the City of Cape Town should give cars with more than one occupant permission to use the red lane normally reserved for buses.
“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures and we might well learn something from the improvisation,” she said.