Stakeholders in the bus and taxi industry should refrain from drawing the battle lines over the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system which is aimed at making travelling safer, efficient and reliable for all South Africans, writes Nthambeleni Gabara.
The BRT system is a key component of the Department of Transport's integrated transport networks 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.
The BRT will service people from Soshanguve, Ga-Rankuwa (north of Pretoria) as well as Mamelodi (east of Pretoria) and involves the construction of "bus way corridors" on segregated lanes and modernised transport technology.
This bus system will also have routes leading to the training stadiums and stadiums hosting matches.
The system, once completed will feature dedicated and segregated bus-only lanes, as well as bus stations that are safe, comfortable, weather-protected and friendly to disabled passengers.
BRT systems combine the best features of rail together with the flexibility and cost advantages of road-based transport, and have the added advantage of being easier and faster to build than a light rail transport system.
In the first phase of BRT, buses will be running to 150 stations positioned half a kilometre from each other. The buses will run every three minutes during peak times, and every 10 minutes in off-peak times, running for 18 hours a day from 5am to midnight every day.
In October 2007, Johannesburg Mayor Amos Masondo and representatives of the taxi industry signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to mark the opening of the BRT system. It was the culmination of a lengthy process of consultation between the city and the taxi industry on various issues regarding the future of public transport.
However, Johannesburg taxi operators on Tuesday lead a violent protest against the system, saying it was going to put them out of work. Similar protests have taken place in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.
Transport Minister Jeff Radebe has said the project will continue, adding that the department is willing to meet with stakeholders to discuss their concerns.
Earlier this year, Gauteng Transport MEC Ignatius Jacobs announced that the system would be introduced in Gauteng in time for the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in June.
Regarding the concerns of taxi and bus operators and owners, Mr Jacobs said they were included in the BRT process for the past two years.
"The taxi industry elected its representative to sit on the body and worked for two years on this system with the City of Johannesburg. Now at the stage of implementation they are asking us to hold on," he said.
The integrated transport plan also includes the Rea Vaya Bus BRT system in the City of Johannesburg and at the Nelson Mandela Bay and the Taxi Recapitalisation Programme.
The scrapping of old and unsafe taxi vehicles and their replacement with New Taxi Vehicles with better safety features has been on track since the past few years. To date, over 13 533 old taxis have been scrapped and R676 million has been paid out to taxi operators as scrapping allowance.