/ 19 August 2009

Taxi drivers plan nationwide strike over BRT system

Taxi drivers and operators across the country will strike from September 1 over the implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

”We are calling for a total stoppage of public transport for the taxi industry,” South African National Taxi Drivers Council secretary-general Philip Taaibosch told a meeting of industry players in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

”The strike is to register the concerns of the taxi operators in Johannesburg with support which will be coming from all other provinces.”

The BRT system was expected to start running in Johannesburg at the beginning of September.

Taaibosch accused the city of ignoring the taxi industry’s concerns and negotiating in bad faith.

”We believe that our operators in Johannesburg are not protected and we believe that … the City of Johannesburg are negotiating in bad faith.

”We cannot support the BRT in its present form, not without the involvement of the elected leaders from the taxi industry.”

City of Johannesburg spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane denied allegations of bad faith and said the city had an ”open-door” policy.

”The city’s position is still… that the negotiations are as transparent as possible and as inclusive as possible. The doors are open.”

Taaibosch claimed the taxi representatives in those negotiations were not legitimate leaders.

He said more explanations were needed and the implementation of BRT should be suspended until taxi operators were satisfied. Going even further, Taaibosch said if authorities had been serious about negotiating with the taxi industry ”they would have given the taxi industry the right of first refusal”.

”Where these buses are going to run is where taxis have been running historically, and they are now going to infringe on the operations of other people, and those people will then be obliged to defend their operations,” Taaibosch charged.

The industry had previously claimed their routes as intellectual property. This argument had not been tested in court and had been rejected by many legal experts.

The City of Johannesburg had been in talks with the taxi industry, but Taaibosch claimed the taxi representatives in those negotiations were not legitimate leaders.

The city has also offered the taxi industry a stake in the BRT system, but this was also rejected by Taaibosch.

”Remember, we never wanted a stake in the BRT.”

However, Modingoane said some taxi operators were prepared to ”engage” in the BRT. An interim management corporation had already been formed with the goal of giving taxi operators ”ownership” of the bus system.

The BRT would continue regardless of the taxi industry, he said.

”We are committed to revolutionising public transport in Johannesburg. BRT is not just about a small number of people. Our mandate is to help the people of Johannesburg.”

Taaibosch and chairperson of the Johannesburg Southern Suburb Taxi Association Ralph Jones promised that the strikes would be peaceful.

Jones said that past demonstrations in Pretoria had been conducted without incident.

”So at the end of the day, ladies and gentlemen, there will not be any violence.”

He neglected to mention strikes by taxi drivers in Cape Town earlier this year, which left several people injured and caused hundreds of thousands of rands worth of damage. — Sapa