Joburg ready to launch BRT - Mokonyane

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Johannesburg - Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane says law enforcement authorities will stand ready to protect bus commuters in Johannesburg, as the city prepares to launch the much anticipated Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system on Sunday.

Johannesburg will become the first city to launch the system which aims to provide state-of-the art public transport ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

However, some taxi associations have threatened to register their unhappiness with the BRT in a rolling strike action planned for next week, and have also threatened violence.

However, Premier Mokonyane said the city authorities will not bow to the threats.

"We want to assure the people of Gauteng that we are determined to protect them. Law enforcement authorities will stand ready to deal with any disruptions that may occur," Ms Mokonyane said, while addressing reporters at one of the BRT stations in Ellis Park.

"No permission has been sought for the strike and any public gathering that seeks to undermine the process (BRT launch) will be dealt with," Premier Mokonyane added.

She said the City of Johannesburg will also oppose any legal action by taxi operators to block the launch of the BRT.

The United Taxi Association Forum (UTAF) on Thursday lodged legal papers at the Pretoria High Court to have the launch of the BRT suspended, reported the SABC. The forum wants the court to suspend BRT operations until further talks had taken place between the industry and government.

But Premier Mokonyane is determined that everything had been done from the government's side to bring the taxi industry on board.

"We are going to tell the court that government has done everything to bring everyone on board.

"They are doing this thinking they are in control of this country ... we are not equals, we are the state, we are the ones that govern this country, they don't have the police and they don't have the army, we have," Ms Mokonyane said.

About 90 taxi drivers had been trained so far to drive the ReaVaya buses. According to the Premier, the Johannesburg BRT steering committee is engaged in further talks with taxi operators to have more drivers trained.

Government has also condemned threats of violence made by the taxi industry, against the implementation of the BRT system.

"Such threats of violence and actual violent conduct are viewed in a very serious light and will not be tolerated," Government Spokesperson Themba Maseko said on Thursday, following an ordinary meeting of cabinet.

Mr Maseko also warned that law enforcement agencies will not hesitate to take strong action against those who either threaten or perpetrate any form of violence.

Government, he said, acknowledged the right of those unhappy with the BRT to protest, but was adamant that this "right cannot be exercised at the expense of law abiding citizens, who have an equal right to a safe, punctual and efficient ride between home and work."

The BRT initiative is aimed at improving and changing the way commuters travel in major cities by providing an integrated, efficient, affordable, reliable and safe public transport system.

The high-floor state-of-the art buses will allow passengers to embark and disembark at closed, raised stations, with level boarding every half a kilometre to three quarters of a kilometer.

Meanwhile, the KwaZulu-Natal Taxi Alliance became the first body to announce that it will not be part of the planned mass action by taxi operators.

UTAF had written to several taxi associations in the country in a bid to gain some form of solidarity.

The KwaZulu-Natal body said while it still needed some clarity on certain BRT issues, its members have decided not to be part of the rolling mass action.