The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) and its cash-strapped bus company Autopax have been referred to the Competition Tribunal by the Competition Commission for abusing space at Park Station.
In a statement released on Monday afternoon, the commission said this follows an investigation into complaints received from various long-distance bus operators between March 2017 and July 2019.
Intercape, Eldo Coaches, Africa People Mover, Moolla’s Transport Services and Eagle Liner highlighted issues concerning the pay-on-use system and the hourly access fee per bus that was introduced in December 2013.
“The new system significantly increased the bus operators’ costs of access to Park Station thus threatening their sustainability and expansion,” said the commission.
Intercape was subjected to an annual increase of 460% in 2014, it said.
The bus access fee is presently set at R480 (excluding Vat) per hour, per bus for access to loading bays at Park Station.
Prasa also charges a penalty of R150 for every 15 minutes a bus exceeds the initial hour.
Costs are pushed on to passengers
The commission stated that its biggest concern, apart from the impact on the sustainability and expansion of Autopax’s competitors, is that the costs of these increases are being passed on to passengers.
“The collapse of the other bus operators as a result of Prasa’s conduct will lead to the market being dominated by Autopax, which will be able to charge passengers excessive prices.”
The commission added that Autopax, which operates the City to City and Translux bus services, is already charging customers more on the routes where it is dominant.
According to the commission, there is also a substantial difference in fees that Prasa charges at the Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town intermodal facilities.
“In turn, this has threatened the ability of interprovincial bus operators to provide scheduled and affordable interprovincial travel in Johannesburg-linked routes to other cities in South Africa,” said the commission.
Autopax taking up ‘space’
The investigation found that Prasa allocates a large exclusive area at Park Station to Autopax, while not providing access to loading bays to its competitors who have applied for access.
“[Yet] Autopax does not fully utilise the loading bays to which Prasa has granted it exclusive use,” said the commission.
It added that Prasa does not enforce payment from Autopax for the bus access fee and the rent payable for leasing office space at Park Station “despite Autopax being in default”.
“But [it] intends to evict other interprovincial bus operators that defaulted on making monthly payments due to the high and unaffordable access fee.”
The rules don’t apply to Autopax
Prasa is the sole owner and manager of intermodal terminal facilities in South Africa, including Park Station, which is strategically located in Gauteng, connecting different modes of transport to many passengers.
Long-distance bus operators provide scheduled bus services that connect cities in South Africa to each other. It is a requirement of the interprovincial operating licence that long-distance bus operators secure access to terminal facilities.
“Except for Autopax, long-distance bus operators provide an unsubsidised bus transportation service, and as such the cost of access to an intermodal terminal facility is important to them,” said the commission.
“Overall, the commission’s investigation found Prasa’s conduct constituted an abuse of its dominant position as the monopoly provider of the only intermodal terminal facility in Johannesburg in contravention of the Competition Act,” said the commission.
It is seeking an administrative penalty against Prasa not exceeding 10% of its annual turnover, as well as an order directing it to stop abusing its monopoly over Park Station.