Taxis cuss the bus

The Gauteng taxi association behind this week’s upheavals in Johannesburg remains adamant that it will not participate in the negotiations over the new bus rapid transport system (BRT), which have been under way for two years. But the city has slammed opposition to the BRT, which it says, comes from a minority of the region’s taxi operatives.

The taxi industry signed a memorandum of agreement with the City of Johannesburg on the BRT in 2007 and a steering committee composed of representatives from the industry has been negotiating with the city on the subject.

However, Ralph Jones, chairman of the United Taxi Association Forum (Utaf), said the forum recalled its members from the steering committee last year because it “did not represent our interests — We will not sit in the same room with the BRT steering committee.”

Rehana Moosajee, head of Johannesburg transport, who told the Mail & Guardian that the city is open to negotiation with Utaf, condemned the forum’s attitude. “That there is a small, minority group of South Africans who want to hold an international event in this country to ransom is unacceptable,” she said.

Utaf represents about 30 taxi associations in Gauteng — about one-sixth of the region’s 183 associations. It handed over a memorandum addressed to ANC president Jacob Zuma during Tuesday’s strike.

“The government has failed us,” Jones said. “We have no confidence in [Transport Minister] Jeff Radebe. We gave the memorandum to the ruling party because they could be more open minded in addressing our concerns.”

Responding to fears that the taxi industry was threatening to disrupt the 2010 World Cup, Jones said taxi drivers had been integral to the cricket, rugby and soccer world events held in South Africa in the past. “Why do they want to throw us out now? Danny Jordaan and Irvin Khoza [members of the 2010 local organising committee] need to come to the party and consult us. They cannot wish us away.”

Jeremy Cronin, chair of Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport, said transformation of the minibus sector, which transports about 64% of public transport users, is tricky but crucial. He emphasised that government is open to negotiations with the taxi industry.

However, Cronin criticised “elements” within the taxi industry who are sowing confusion and misinforming smaller groups in an attempt to hamper negotiations.

“While the sector has flexibility and durability that must be admired it is bedevilled by warlords, unsustainable business models and extremely poor working conditions,” said Cronin.

He said that while the BRT system is important for the smooth running of the World Cup, its legacy will extend beyond 2010.

“We are not just looking to meet football-driven deadlines but more importantly to provide a safe, efficient public transport system for South Africans,” Cronin said.

Government has vowed to continue work on the BRT despite Tuesday’s protests in which 5 000 taxi drivers and owners brought Johannesburg’s CBD to a standstill.

Phase 1a of the BRT is expected to be complete by June 1, in time for the Confederations Cup. Initially, about 550 taxis will be removed from the roads. There will be dedicated BRT lanes along a 25.5km route with 20 BRT stations.

However, the city is putting together a contingency plan to cater for the possibility that the BRT deadline may not be met in time for 2010.

“We are considering alternatives. We have an operational plan in place and we believe that we have the capacity to cater for the crowds,” Moosajee said.

“We never said we don’t want the BRT,” Jones told the M&G. “We said we don’t understand how it works and how it will benefit us. That’s what government needs to explain.” Utaf’s primary concern is that the BRT will result in a massive loss of jobs and unfair competition.

Meanwhile, members of the Top Six taxi organisation and the Greater Johannesburg Regional Taxi Council (GJRTC) are locked in negotiations with the City of Johannesburg over the BRT’s financial model. But GJRTC regional chairman and member of the BRT steering committee, Eric Motshwane, said the parties are confident of reaching an agreement by the end of May.

Moosajee said the BRT system “levels the playing field” in the transport sector, since taxis will now be state-subsidised alongside buses and trains. “For the workers it provides better working hours, pension, medical aid, UIF benefits and an improved quality of life,” she said.

Voices of protest

“We will cripple the economy and we will take this strike national. BRT will take the bread out of our children’s mouths.” –Keith, taxi owner.

“One bus driver, one bullet.” — Banner carried by protesting taxi drivers.

“If [Transport Minister] Jeff Radebe wants to improve the taxi industry, he must come to us first.” — Dumisane Nkosi, taxi owner.

“Away with Jeffism.” — Banner.

“The taxis helped you to exile.” — Banner.

“We’re not talking about routes, we’re talking about the taxi industry. We are not aeroplanes or trains that talk about routes.” — Victor Ndhlovu, queue marshal.

“In a bus you only have one driver. But for taxis, there are car washers, drivers, queue marshals and people who work with motor spares who are all going to lose their jobs. We need the BRT to be stopped until we negotiate. We always invite the government to forums but they don’t come.” — Taxi owner, Brenda Tshabalala.

“The buses are going to have their own lane, therefore they will be faster than taxis.” — Jabulani Masilela, taxi driver.

“Jeff [Radebe] has an idea that BRT can save our transport system, but we have been here for all these years. Where were they [government] then?” — Lucky Bhengu, taxi driver.

“Even the vendors selling at the taxi ranks will lose their jobs.” Jabulani Masilela, taxi driver. — Ilham Rawoot and Karabo Keepile

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