The Competition Commission has referred the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) and its bus transport subsidiary Autopax to the Competition Tribunal for prosecution for allegedly abusing its dominance.
This follows an investigation by the commission into complaints by various long-distance bus operators against PRASA and Autopax.
The commission believes PRASA was charging excessive prices to the bus operators for the use of Park Station – the only intermodal terminal facility in Johannesburg.
Additionally, the commission found that PRASA favoured Autopax in space allocation and had restricted or denied access to competing bus service operators to Park Station.
PRASA is the sole owner and manager of intermodal terminal facilities in South Africa, which are indispensable to both long-distance bus operators and to passengers, as it allows for the connection of different modes of transport at a single location.
The commission, in its findings, explained that long-distance bus operators provided scheduled bus services that connect cities in South Africa to each other. The interprovincial operating licence required long-distance bus operators to 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.
PRASA had introduced the Pay-on-Use system, together with the hourly access fees per bus at Park station in December 2013.
According to the commission, the new system had significantly increased the bus operators’ costs of access to Park station, therefore threatening their sustainability and expansion. For example, the annual increase to Intercape was 460% for 2014.
PRASA had introduced and implemented the Pay-on Use system only at Park station and not at any of its other intermodal terminal facilities in Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.
The bus access fee was currently set at R480 per hour per bus for access to loading bays at Park Station, and, additionally, PRASA charged a penalty of R150 for every 15 minutes by which each bus exceeded the initial hour.
Apart from threatening the sustainability and expansion of Autopax’s competitors in a market, the commission was concerned that the costs of these increases were being passed on to consumers.
In addition, the collapse of the other bus operators as a result of PRASA’s conduct would lead to the market being dominated by Autopax, which would then be able to charge passengers excessive prices, the commission argued.
The commission said that Autopax had already been charging customers more on routes where it was dominant.
The commission recommended that PRASA pay an administrative penalty not exceeding 10% of its yearly turnover, as well as that the State-owned entity be ordered to stop abusing its monopoly over Park Station.