NATIONAL NEWS - The Competition Commission of South Africa has accused the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) and its subsidiary, Autopax, of charging excessive prices to Park Station bus operators.
As such, the Commission has referred Prasa and Autopax to the Competition Tribunal and wants Prasa to pay an administrative fee of 10% of its annual profits, according to a statement released by the Commission on Monday.
Autopax operates Translux and City to City bus services.
Prasa is alleged to have favoured Autopax by constantly allocating space for it, restricting or denying bus operators who are Autopax competitors. These include Unitrans (which operates Greyhound, Citi Liner and Megabus), InterCape, Eldo Coaches, Africa People Mover, Moollas Transport Services, and Cream Magenta (which operates Eagle Liner and Intercity Xpress).
Prasa is accused of abusing its dominance, as it is the sole owner and manager of intermodal terminal facilities in the country, including the strategically-located Park Station in the Johannesburg CBD.
Autopax is also alleged to be exempt from paying an unsubsidised bus transportation fee, which other companies are allegedly made to pay, despite their access to terminal facilities not being guaranteed.
Bus companies also have to foot the bill of a Pay-on-Use system, introduced by Prasa in December 2013 exclusively for Park Station, in addition to an hourly access fee per bus. The Pay-on-Use system led to significant increases in bus operator costs.
The Commission’s statement provides an example of InterCape’s annual increase in fees for 2014, which increased by 460%.
The Pay-on-Use system was flagged for investigation after the Commission received numerous complaints between March 2017 and Jul 2019. The Commission explained that its investigation found access bus fees to be exorbitant and that the Pay-on-Use system exacerbated the costs bus operators were forced to cover to continue running interprovincially.
Bus access fees currently sit at R480 per hour per bus to access a loading bay at Park Station, as well as a penalty fee of R150 for every 15 minutes each bus exceeds the initial hour.
“There’s 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,” the Commission explained.
The Commission’s investigation further found Autopax to be able to access many loading bays at Park Station, despite not always using them all, jeopardising other bus operators’ opportunities to make use of the terminal.
The allegations of Prasa favouring Autopax was further reinforced when the Commission confirmed that Autopax was not being forced to pay access fees or rent fees for leasing office space at Park Station. This despite Autopax allegedly defaulting on payments.
Other bus operators that cannot make monthly payments due to excessive fees, however, are allegedly being threatened with eviction from Prasa.
The Commission said it was concerned that Prasa’s alleged favouritism of Autopax would adversely affect commuters, who would eventually have to pay for fee increases for bus operators not run by Autopax to make a living.
It was also concerned that Autopax would eventually dominate the interprovincial bus transportation market, and would then be in a position to charge passengers more excessive prices for tickets. The Commission stated that Autopax was already charging consumers more in routes it currently dominates.
Prasa’s conduct is also seen by the Commission as a breach of the Competition Act.
The Commission wants Prasa to pay an administrative penalty fee, and to order it to “stop abusing its monopoly over Park Station”.