South Africa’s transport system has a long and varied past but with infrastructure upgrades in motion and advancements in technology; not to mention social transformation on the agenda, public transport has an important role to play in the 21st Century.
One of the foremost companies when it comes to bus transportation is PUTCO Ltd. The Sandton-based company operates a fleet in excess of 1,800 buses and according to its website, travels 90 million kilometres each year, transporting some 73 million passengers.
The company was formed out of adversity; originally called the Public Utility Transport Corporation (PUTCO), the organisation came to fruition in 1945, following a dramatic bus strike in the preceding year. The business was run by visionary men like Tom Frith and Jack Barregar until it was renamed PUTCO in the 1970s.
As PUTCO was becoming established, a family, consisting of Gaetano, Luigi and Albino Carleo started their own small bus operations out of Wynberg in 1948. As their business grew they took control of PUTCO in September 1971.
At that time, there were a number of challenges not entirely unfamiliar with the current landscape: increasing diesel costs and maintenance challenges, including a lack of spare parts, which of course put a premium on prices.
The company describes its significant history through its website, as such:
“PUTCO has been part of the South African history, trading on the Johannesburg stock exchange for over six decades; surviving the penny fare increase of 1954, the 1976 riots and the upheavals of the 1980’s.
“We are the only public passenger company previously listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange SA and have grown into the biggest commuter bus operator in the country, operating 1,600 buses, employing just over 4,200 people, transporting more than 230,000 commuters daily in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Limpopo and travelling over 90 million kilometres per annum.”
Along the way, PUTCO’s ownership structure has changed significantly and today the company claims to be 42.6 per cent black owned – 11 per cent of which are by black women.
The company takes its social responsibilities very seriously and is making a positive impact, as the corporate website outlines:
“Transport plays a significant role in the growth and development of any country. In addition to its economic contribution, transport is critical to upward social mobility, broadening access to health care, education, employment, and promotes social cohesion. Diversity within the transport industry is just as critical to sustainability and growth.
“When it comes to the commuter bus service industry, a major barrier to entry has been the perception that driving a bus is a male profession. This, more than any other factor, has worked to entrench a preference for male drivers and has discouraged female interest in the profession.
“The times are changing and there are bus operators who recognise that diversity in the workplace must include women in traditionally male roles. Companies such as PUTCO have pledged that their contribution to skills development and transformation, will include the championing of female empowerment within the transport sector. PUTCO’s Training Academy and Selection Centre prioritizes the selection and training of female drivers. Through the company’s professional learnership and other training programmes, 56 female drivers have been trained and are still employed by the Company over the last 15 years. This represents 3.23 per cent of the total number of drivers currently employed. PUTCO is committed to increasing this figure the number through every learnership intake.
“Participants in the professional learnership programme undergo 6 months of theoretical and practical training at the Training Academy, followed by another month of practical driving at the depot, moving busess inside the depot premisis. Once they are found competent on the first part of their training they commence route training under the watchful eye of mentor drivers. Once qualified, graduates operate shifts on their own.
“PUTCO’s commitment to gender equality does not end there. The PUTCO apprenticeship programmes offer courses for diesel mechanics and auto electricians. Many trainees go on to qualify as Artisans after writing their trade tests. Refilwe Setlau, who was a female apprentice living with a hearing impairment, recently qualified as a professional Auto Electrician Artisan. PUTCO currently has 166 Apprentices in its training programme, 65 of these Apprentices are females.
“PUTCO’s MD, Franco Pisapia, believes strongly that it is only through embracing diversity and facilitating inclusion that South Africans can shift perceptions and address stereotypes within the bus operator industry and the wider transport sector.”
Furthermore, through the Putco Foundation, local communities continue to benefit from generous investment in vital equipment or services.
A prime example can be found in 2 Mpumalanga Municipalities, which received 3 state of the art ambulances valued at more than R2 million.
The Dr. JS Moroka Municipality, the Thembisile Hani Municipality as well as the Kwa-Mhlanga Hospital were each provided with one ambulance to assist in the improvement of emergency response times to community members and patients respectively.
“The PUTCO Foundation will continue to work with government, communities and all stakeholders to ensure that we continue to build stronger and healthier communities. In 2013, the PUTCO Foundation, in partnership with the Mpumalanga Provincial Government, spent R2.1 million in building decent houses to deserving families in Western Mpumalanga. Today we are confident that these ambulances will be indeed be utilized for effective and efficient healthcare service delivery.
“The PUTCO Foundation plays an important role in shaping the lives of South Africans and contributing to the country’s skills base and other social programmes. The changing socio-economic conditions in our country have necessitated a new focus for the PUTCO CSI Foundation, to ensure that its mandate remains relevant and is in line with the company’s objectives, and it is the hope of the PUTCO Foundation that these ambulances will improve healthcare service delivery in the Mpumalanga Province.”
The modern South Africa is a changing society and Putco is working hard to play its part in shaping the future of the nation.