South Africa : BRT Operations put on hold

By Bathandwa Mbola

Johannesburg - Operation issues around the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system will be put on hold pending further consultations, says the Department of Transport

"The summit has resolved that the issues around the operations of the BRT, be put on hold until further consultations," departmental spokesperson Collen Msibi told BuaNews.

However, he dismissed media reports that the whole project will be put on ice.

"It is only the operations. Other things like the construction of infrastructure which is progressing well in different cities will continue," he said.

The statement comes after the South African National Taxi Council's (Santaco) BRT Summit, on Monday, which aimed at addressing taxi operators' long standing concerns on the BRT.

At the summit, Transport Minister Jeff Radebe assured taxi operators that there will be no jobs lost as a result of the system.

"I want to state emphatically at the outset... government guarantees no loss of legitimate jobs and profits among those who make the shift into the BRT systems," he told delegates.

At the summit, Minister Radebe told the 3 000 taxi operators from all nine provinces and government transport authorities that all cities currently implementing BRT will do so via a negotiated contract with incumbent minibus and bus operators on the affected routes.

He, however, said that by 2020 a maximum of 15 000 to 18 000 taxis would be affected by the BRT system in eight cities. "This is under the 15 percent of the current national taxi fleet," he said.

He emphasised the BRT system would be a win-win situation for all South Africans, adding that it was a revolution in public transport and reassured the taxi industry that there would be no loss of jobs or loss of profit.

"Government is firm that we need to change in order to be sustainable and equitable and user friendly. No change is not an option."

He added that the taxi industry was the nucleus of the BRT system.

Santaco President Jabulani Mthembu said the industry's plight had worsened over the last 14 years.

"We are here to deal with bread and butter issues. All we are asking is for someone to assist us to protect our bread," said Mr Mthembu.

Santaco was concerned that the government had asked the taxi industry to register its routes because they wanted to proceed placing the new bus system on the same routes without consulting them.

They also indicated that they wanted to control the project and its entire value chain.

The proposed transport system will be in operation before the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in June. When the BRT starts operating, commuters will have access to world-class public transport at very 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; it is planned 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.

In Johannesburg, the public has been asked to comment on the draft tariffs, before the first phase of the system begins operating. Comments must be submitted before 30 April.

"These draft tariffs have been approved by the council for consultation. These tariffs, which we believe are very affordable, will come into effect on 1 June when phase 1A starts operating," said Bob Stanway, the BRT project manager.

The recommended tariffs range from R3 to R8.

Mr Stanway explained that the tariffs may be adjusted over time. For instance, if the diesel price decreased or more people used the system, the price of the tickets would drop. - BuaNews