Sbongile Dimbaza and Mawande Jack HERALD REPORTERS
CONSTRUCTION of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Nelson Mandela Bay has been thrown into disarray following new demands by taxi associations.
Operators want the project to be completely redesigned to allow taxis free reign in the city and that new bus lanes be built in certain areas, including Uitenhage and Motherwell.
The transport system, which is a national project and a Fifa prerequisite for all cities hosting World Cup matches next year, has been the cause of a series of transport strikes that have crippled the city during the past four months.
Last week, taxi associations called off the strike after the municipality agreed to negotiate on a possible redesign of the BRT system.
The radical new demands follow a meeting between the municipality and taxi associations on Monday, at which they presented a redesigned plan.
A dedicated BRT committee has until March 2 to study its impact.
Any change of plan is bound to further delay the key 2010 project, which is already behind schedule.
The taxi industry wants both bus and taxi operators to have equal access to BRT infrastructure in the central business district (CBD).
The associations also oppose the idea that they be “feeders” to buses.
Port Elizabeth and District Taxi Association chairman Melekile Hani said they had also suggested that dedicated bus lanes be incorporated in the plan for areas like Motherwell, Uitenhage, Stanford Road and Kempston Road to curb congestion.
“But nothing much was discussed regarding the regulation of the industry and other key areas we are in opposition to. The municipality has agreed to pay, on our behalf, for the drawing up of a business and operational plan.”
Municipal spokesman Kupido Baron confirmed the taxi bodies had submitted their report, but alterations could always be integrated into the current BRT plan. “If the situation constitutes that extra manpower should be brought in to meet the deadline, we will do exactly that.”
However, the municipality could not say when the project would be completed or how far behind schedule it was.
On Monday night, taxi representatives faced the wrath of residents at a meeting organised by the SA National Civics Organisation (Sanco).
Taxi operators were grilled and forced to publicly apologise by angry Motherwell residents for the hardships caused to commuters during last week‘s strike.
Some even insisted Hani be called to the meeting to be reprimanded.
Transport was disrupted and two clinics in Motherwell were also destroyed by fire during the strike.
A Motherwell community leader, Mxolisi Mani, insisted that the taxi representatives give the public reasons for the destruction of their facilities.
“Why must it be us the people who suffer?” he asked. “Why, each time there is a taxi strike, must it be the poor people who are the victims?”
The meeting, attended by councillors, political parties and civic bodies, saw sparks fly as residents threatened to boycott the taxi industry, which they described as being “infiltrated by thugs”.
The situation, which could have got out of hand, was saved by the arrival of councillor Fikile Desi, who urged the residents to “also understand the plight facing the taxi operators, who see the BRT as a means of forcing them out business”.
“Taxi operators are asking for forgiveness. They did that by cutting last Friday‘s taxi fares by half. We should instead say that the next time there is a strike, we should be consulted and that we do not want to see any violence,” Desi said.
Sanco chairman Toni Duba moved the attention of the residents away from the taxi drivers to mayor Nondumiso Maphazi, who he said had failed to attend the meeting although she had been invited.
“We wanted the mayor to come and address the residents. All the problems surrounding the whole BRT system have been caused by her,” said Duba.
In Johannesburg, Transport MEC Ignatius Jacobs said the BRT system would be introduced in Gauteng in time for the Confederations Cup kick-off in Johannesburg on June 14, despite opposition from taxi owners.
Jacobs said taxi owners had been included in the BRT planing process with the City of Johannesburg for the past two years.
“Now, at the stage of implementation, they are asking us to hold on?”
source The Herald