Working group formed to deal with BRT concerns

By Chris Bathembu

Johannesburg - Government is to constitute a National Joint Working Group on Public Transport to deal with issues in the taxi industry.

This National Working Group on Public Transport will drive the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system and other public transport issues.

Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele made the announcement on Thursday, following a meeting with the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO).

The government team will consist of the transport ministry as well as mayors of the four metro areas where the BRT is being developed for it to be rolled out in eveloped by 2010 - Johannesburg, Cape Town, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, which is proposed to be developed by 2010.

The taxi industry will also select its own team of representatives.

Minister Ndebele said the working group will meet from next week for a series of engagements in a bid to find lasting solutions and allay the fears of the taxi industry regarding the BRT.

It will also deal with operational matters and the role of taxi operators and how they will be part of the process.

The team will be expected to draft an economic empowerment plan, discuss licensing and regulatory problems and formulate a training and capacity building programme to benefit the taxi industry.

Taxi operators have been at loggerheads with government over the implementation of the BRT claiming it would lead to job losses.

"It is very important that government and the taxi industry pursue a common agenda with full commitment and determination to provide a suitable, effective, safe and affordable transport system to our people," the minister said.

The agreement to establish a task team was made at a meeting the minister held with taxi operators earlier in the day.

The meeting was a follow up engagement held between the industry and President Jacob Zuma in April.

At the time, the President had requested the taxi industry leadership to defer negotiations related to the operations of the system until after the elections to allow more time to deal properly with the concerns of the industry.

In his State of the Nation Address last week, the President confirmed that there would be a series of engagements with the stakeholders affected by the BRT system.

He expressed confidence that unresolved issues would be dealt with to the satisfaction of all parties.

Minister Ndebele stressed that the working group will not only deal with the BRT but will attempt to address all issues facing public transport in South Africa.

"Of paramount importance, we need to engage in a structured process of meaningful dialogue with the taxi industry," said Mr Ndebele.

He said government will also start negotiations with the four cities that are driving the BRT process.

The issues for negotiations should include the ownership structure for existing taxi operators and workers, the institutional arrangements for the value-chain benefits and Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment in various areas, the minister said.

"I am urging the taxi industry to look at the BRT system as an upgrade of their service and take this opportunity to grow a new revenue system," said the Minister.

SANTACO President Jabulani Mthembu welcomed the formation of the task team saying the industry was looking forward to working with government.

The BRT system was introduced in 2008 in order to deal with the increasing congestion facing Johannesburg motorists. It is designed to provide a high quality and affordable transport system, which is fast and safe.

The BRT system is a key component of the Department of Transport's integrated transport network plan which government is implementing in the 2010 FIFA World Cup host cities. It is hoped the system will promote the use of public transport ahead of the soccer spectacle.

It will also have routes leading to the training stadiums and stadiums hosting matches.

When the BRT starts operating, commuters will have access to world-class public transport at competitive prices.

The system will feature dedicated and segregated bus-only lanes, as well as bus stations that are safe, comfortable, weather-protected and friendly to disabled passengers.

It will run for 18 hours a day from 5am to 11pm and the plan is to eventually extend this to 24 hours a day.

There will be bus stations every 500 metres, with security officers and CCTV cameras linked to a BRT control room. - BuaNews