Open letter to President Motlanthe and the Minister of Transport regarding Bus rapid transit - National Taxi Association complaints from Bantu Holomisa, MP - UDM President (2 February 2009)

The abovementioned matter refers. Yesterday I met with the Western Cape leadership of the National Taxi Association in Cape Town; they expressed a great deal of concern about how their industry is being treated by Government. They cited for instance the promises that were made on the Taxi Recap - a system which they had significant reservations about, but which Government forced upon them, leading to huge expenses for industry participants. The initial Government promises on the Taxi Recap have come to naught. Some of the people who surrendered their taxis to fall in line with the Taxi Recap claim that they have not been paid as promised, and have apparently been told they cannot acquire the new taxis because there is currently no Government funding available for the Taxi Recap.

The situation is being aggravated by the insistence of Government that taxi owners should buy their new taxis from China, irrespective of the industry's concerns regarding the durability and safety of these vehicles. It is the height of hypocrisy that Government is forcing on the industry the acquisition of these dubious vehicles when the initial justification for the Taxi Recap was safety and roadworthiness issues.

Whilst the industry faces these major challenges the Government is pursuing a new strategy called the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which the taxi industry views as a deliberate attempt to undermine them. According to the taxi industry there has been a lack of consultation on this matter - with national Government simply parachuting this idea into local Government without any consultations with Provincial and National transport stakeholders. The Provincial and National taxi industry representatives have made several attempts to meet with the Minister of Transport on this matter, but to no avail. Indeed, according to a letter, dated 1 October 2008, the Minister committed to such a national consultative meeting in the form of a summit. The taxi industry told me that on 4 December 2008 all the taxi industry representatives converged on Midrand to discuss this matter, but the Minister did not turn up and it was announced that he would address the meeting via satellite. It left the impression that he did not want to engage in real consultations or discussions.

In the meantime the local Government authorities who are tasked to implement the BRT system are telling the taxi industry that this is a national Government policy, yet on the other hand the Minister's letter to the industry clearly states that there is a need for consultation (which has not taken place yet). For instance, as late as December 2008 a document was issued by the Department of Transport entitled: "Draft national framework on the Inclusion of Taxi Operators & Labour into BRT systems and other Integrated Rapid Public Transport Networks (IRPTNs) For discussion and comment", which implies that this is still a policy under development. But on the other hand, the municipalities of Port Elizabeth and Cape Town (and other municipalities) are reported to be going full steam ahead with implementing this policy.

The other concern of the taxi industry is the reluctance of the Minister of Transport to be transparent on who the real owners of these BRT operators are. Is this state-run transport or are these buses private ventures? If the latter, why would Government subsidise them and invest in infrastructure to promote their business, whilst the established taxi industry (which continues to be single biggest and most important public transport
stakeholder) receives no such Government support? Indeed the Department of Transport document (IRPTNs) referred to above says:

  • Need to finalise Business Model & create new local operator entities at least 6 months before starting services.
  • 2010 Cities with IRPTN plans need to finish contracting new operators by March 2009 at latest.
  • Further challenge: local bus & taxi operators may need to partner with experienced BRT operators to ensure success of Phase 1.

These 3 points are very important. Firstly, it is clear that all stakeholders should buy into this plan and deadlines. The taxi industry is specifically concerned that the last point quoted above would amount to Government decreeing who should do business with whom. This is a free market, and again the question arises of who these BRT operators are.

One thing that I observed from my discussions with the taxi industry is that there is a lot of resentment towards the South African National Taxi Association (SANTACO), which Government has been communicating with on these matters. It appears that the communication between Government and SANTACO does not filter down to its affiliate members. The industry is increasingly left with the impression that SANTACO is systematically selling their industry to the highest bidder. Their suspicions are now being reinforced because Government is financing SANTACO. Of concern to them is that an amount of about R12 million cannot be accounted for by SANTACO officials, and which is currently under police investigation.

There is no doubt that the consultation process has not been effective or finalised, as reflected by the Department's own documentation referred to above. The credibility of SANTACO officials who are on the payroll of the Department of Transport is questionable. The lack of transparency on what role Government will play in subsidising/financing these 'unknown' BRT operators is a concern. The March 2009 deadline of the Department of Transport to implement this policy whilst there has not been proper consultation is creating further confusion at National, Provincial and Local level. The bellicose and arrogant approach of the Minister, who seems hell-bent on forcing this new system onto the taxi industry runs contrary to the ethics of good governance. It is fresh in our minds how this same Minister has in the past few years told us how rosy the outlook is for the Taxi Recap programme and how much funding is available for it.

In the light of the above, we are appealing to Government to:

  • Urgently hold the proposed Transport Summit to ensure that everybody is reading from the same page. And to ensure that the Minister is actually present in person to participate in a genuine discussion, as opposed to a satellite-feed.
  • Ask local Governments to suspend the implementation of the BRT until there is clarity and consensus at national level between all the stakeholders.
  • Ask the President to appoint a committee of two or three, chaired by a retired judge and including a respected economist; it could serve as a forum to which the industry and Government can submit their views and concerns regarding the transformation of public transport. Such a committee must report to Cabinet, and not be an appendage of the Minister of Transport. It could look at the range of concerns around the Taxi Recap (including whether the suggested Chinese vehicles meet minimum safety and durability standards. The Committee must establish standards and allow the industry to make decisions within that framework, as opposed to Government officials deciding unilaterally which brand of vehicles the industry must acquire), the implementation of the BRT and also listen to the concerns of the public. The confidence of the industry and the public in the Department is waning. Only after this Committee has submitted to Cabinet its report should there be talk about implementation deadlines.

For further details don't hesitate to contact the following people who led the taxi industry delegation I met with:
MA Seyamo, Western Cape branch of the National Taxi Association - Vice Chairperson: 073 266 8159
Mr MH Mente, Western Cape branch of the National Taxi Association - PRO: 083 507 0833

Your cooperation will be appreciated.

Kindly advise

Bantu Holomisa, MP
UDM President

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