BRT roll-out could trigger nationwide taxi strike

By Nthambeleni Gabara

Pretoria - Taxi operators say they will embark on a countrywide stay-away which will be followed by a national strike if government fails to resolve their concerns regarding the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

Reacting to the current taxi operators' strike in Johannesburg who are against the expansion of BRT routes, SANTACO secretary-general Phillip Taaibosch, said they would also call taxi operators countrywide to converge in all cities that plan to implement the BRT system.

Taaibosch said the meetings with taxi operators about BRT would start in Joburg.

"It would be regrettable if after all endeavours on our part that we would need to accede to the demand by our National Executive Committee (NEC) to embark on a national stay away, followed by a national strike," he said.

He said this was in response to government clearly dishonouring all its commitments made to the taxi industry. Taaibosch said even though they had no agreement with government regarding their role during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, they were not planning to strike during the tournament.

"Remember this is the first Soccer World Cup in this country, so we are committed to continue rendering our services of transporting people, but if our demands are ignored until the World Cup, it would be an unfortunate incident," he said.

SANTACO is also urging the police to refrain from apparently intimidating and harassing taxi operators in the name of stability while the motive, the taxi operators say, is clearly to target operators who criticise and refuse to buy into the BRT system.

Since the go-slow by the taxi operators, SANTACO said about 68 of its members are currently locked up in police custody for charges unknown to them.

"We aware and wish that despite these hidden motives that the police appear to want to achieve at whatever cost, they would in the interest of participative democracy create an environment that would level the playing field," he said.

Taaibosch also apologised to commuters who are seriously affected by the taxi operators strike.

The next phase of Rea Vaya will be introduced on 3 May 2010 in Joburg. This will include an additional complementary service directly from Dobsonville to Maponya Mall and feeder services from Protea Glen to Thokoza Park Station and from Eldorado Park to Thokoza Park Station.

However government, through the department of transport, has been engaging the taxi industry not only about BRT, but on broad issues affecting the industry. Transport Department spokesperson, Logan Maistry, also confirmed government's engagement with the taxi industry.

"We have been engaging with the taxi industry at national, provincial and local level and we will continue doing so since our mandate is to provide safe, efficient and reliable public transport," he said.

Maistry reiterated Minister Sbusiso Ndebele's sentiments that the rights of commuters need to be respected.

"Commuters are the most important people and as government we are not going to compromise their rights who have the right to choose the modes of transport of their choice," he said. - BuaNews