Less than a quarter of 560 cross-country buses that have been providing supplementary public transport services since last year have reported for duty after the Addis Abeba City Administration settled arrears and renewed contracts earlier this month.

Cross-country buses providing public transport services in Addis Abeba have stopped operations despite the City Administration renewing contracts with the owners.

Nearly 560 buses operating under 13 associations have provided public transport services since October 2020, signing agreements with the Addis Abeba Transport Bureau officials. The buses, which can seat between 45 and 65 passengers, have been on duty six days a week, charging tariffs determined by the Bureau. They were assigned to operate under the state-owned Sheger Mass Transportation Services Enterprise. The latter joined the transport sector in 2016 with 150 buses assembled domestically by the former Metals & Engineering Corporation (MetEC).

The Enterprise doubled its routes to 93 after the arrival of the cross-country buses, most of them connecting the city centre with destinations in the outskirts, where large commuters to the city reside. Many of the buses, categorised based on seating capacity, stopped providing their services last April following city officials’ failure to renew contracts and disburse delayed payments.

“Payment was delayed because it takes time to approve the budget,” said Etsegenet Abebe, communications director for the Transport Bureau.

Two weeks ago, Tiratu Beyene, general manager of the City Administration, decided to settle arrears of 160 million Br. A former Mayor of Hawassa town, Tiratu was appointed to manage the city in 2020. He favoured renewing contracts with the cross-country transport associations, extending the service period to next September.

It has not panned out as he hoped. Eighty-six cross-country buses have reported for duty, Habtewold Shewangizaw, deputy head of operations at Sheger Bus, told Fortune.

Abay Level-One Cross Country Bus Owners Association, with 106 members, has deployed the largest fleet among the 13 associations. Last year, Abay assigned 98 buses to the capital. But the fleet size it has dispatched since last January has dropped by over two-thirds.

Meles Kiheshen, the Association chairperson, attributed the fleet drop to a lack of maintenance. The agreement with the City Administration compels bus owners to cover maintenance and fuel expenses and pay drivers’ salaries. Buses dispatched under Abay received 17 million Br from the city for three months of service beginning April this year.

The Association plans to restore its fleet to full capacity, Meles disclosed to Fortune. However, several buses under Abay sustained breakdown and wear due to the mandatory transport service they provided to the federal government during the militarised conflict in the north.

Tiratu pledged to cover costs to bus owners after his office received a confirmation letter from the Ministry of Defense.

“This process took two months,” said Meles.

The decision to lease the cross-country buses came following a delay in delivering 3,000 buses assembled by the Ethio Engineering Group (the former MetEC). It forced the City Cabinet to approve the lease to ease the transport crisis observed in the capital.

With a fleet dispatched to 125 routes, the state-owned Anbessa City Bus Enterprise serves 300,000 commuters daily, while Sheger ferries 229,000 passengers daily with 289 buses. The Public Transport Enterprise also caters to over 60,000 commuters with a fleet of 254 buses. Under Dawit Yeshitla, the Transport Bureau dispatches close to 8,000 minibuses a day, serving over 600,000 people.

However, the fleets are insufficient to meet the demand from millions of commuters in Addis Abeba and the surrounding towns that depend on public transport.

Engida Tadie, a lecturer of urban planning and transportation management at Kotebe Metropolitan University, urges city officials to get the cross-country buses back on the streets as soon as possible. He observes the support would have been crucial in easing the city’s transportation ordeal over the past couple of weeks, as fewer buses and minibuses operated due to a diesel shortage.

The leaders of transport associations say the administration’s failure to revise contracts adjusted for the rise in fuel prices and climbing maintenance costs influenced their decision not to deploy buses under the scheme. Depending on seating capacity, the City Administration pays associations up to 4,300 Br daily for each bus. Payments are made at the end of the month, though the authorities retain the right to delay payments for up to seven days.

The latest payment came after a two-month delay.

Although the associations were paid for the three months of service since the initial contracts expired, the new deal does not account for fuel prices, according to Birhane Zeru, chairperson of Hidase Level-One Cross-Country Bus Owners’ Association.

Fuel retail prices have been adjusted twice in the last four months. The most recent jump pushed the cost of a litre of benzene to 47.83 Br, a nearly 30pc increase. A litre of diesel retails for 49.02 Br, up 40pc.

Established a decade ago, Hidase, which operates 35 cross-country buses, received 70 million Br for its services over the past three months.

“We’re in a situation where we can’t extend the contract anymore,” said Birhane.

Transport associations have filed pleas for contract reviews no less than five times.

“We request not only the renewal of contracts but also further discussions with city officials,” said Birhane.

Discussions with officials, including Tiratu and Dawit, had been scheduled for last week but were pushed back to the coming week.

“We’re hoping to settle our differences,” said Birhane.

PUBLISHED ON Jul 17,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1159]

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