Bay bus system – what a shambles

Nwabisa Makunga

NELSON Mandela Bay’s new bus system is in a shambles. A report presented by its project manager, Mhleli Tshamase, to city bosses last week details how the ambitious multibillion-rand system – which was meant to revamp public transport in the Bay – has moved from one disruption to another, had endless delays and suffered massive financial losses since its inception.

This is because of a lack of capacity and proper management in the municipality, and tumultuous negotiations with the taxi industry – a major player in the running of the system.

An ANC councillor who attended last week’s meeting, but cannot be named for fear of reprisals, said: “Let’s be honest, the project has collapsed.”

The buses which were operating on the Summerstrand route have been off the road since November 14, after threats by taxi bosses who are livid that the city has yet to pay out what they claim was agreed compensation to taxi owners whose vehicles were pulled off the route to create a market for the buses.

The pilot project launched in Summerstrand last year lapsed on Monday and city bosses have decided against a proposal in the report to extend it to March 31.

They believed the pilot project’s objectives had been achieved, municipal spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki said yesterday.

But it has emerged that the R6500 monthly salary given to 43 former taxi drivers pulled off the Summerstrand route to be the bus system’s ambassadors, was allegedly paid to the wrong people.

Another ANC councillor said the city continued to pay the ambassadors even though the buses were at a standstill.

The report, which the Herald has seen, states that the city needs to “address the recovery of compensation funds paid out to 43 taxis incorrectly provided by the taxi industry”.

The total amount was about R3.35-million, Mniki said. “We are currently finalising the investigation and a report will be submitted to the city manager [Mpilo Mbambisa] in due course for a decision.

“Once the city manager has made a decision, recovery or civil proceedings may be instituted against the identified parties.” However, the councillor said the metro was reluctant to demand the money back from an influential taxi industry, notorious for playing hard ball – “especially during an election year”.

Port Elizabeth and Districts Taxi Association chairman Sandi Mbona said the list they gave to the municipality was not incorrect. He said when the municipality asked for a list of taxi operators to be removed from the Summerstrand route, it only wanted the names of those who had paid in full for their taxis.

Mbona said very few taxis on that route had been paid for in full and they had to take taxis from other routes to complete the list.

“Yes, some of those we put forward were not working on the Summerstrand route, but they are part of our association. In reality, if we had not given some of those names, they would not have had the number of people they wanted.”

He said they had told the municipality that the buses would not carry on operating until the entire compensation issue was resolved.

“In December, we agreed on compensation for all the taxis that were working that route. We agreed that they would pay the difference in our income which was brought in by the Summerstrand route.

“From the day they put those buses there, we made a loss. We need to be compensated.”

But Mniki said “As far as we have ascertained, no agreement has been reached with the Summerstrand taxi operators. NMB is awaiting a response to the offer made.”

The report paints a picture of a system far from being fully operational.

In addition the newly built bus lanes in areas such as Port Elizabeth’s busy Govan Mbeki Avenue have been a traffic nightmare for road users.

The Uitenhage and Despatch routes are not operational. A compensation agreement with taxi operators in that area has yet to be finalised.

The same goes for Port Elizabeth’s Cleary Park route which, according to the report, lacked funds to complete the construction of its infrastructure.

The report also details how poor marketing and a “negative perception” of the system has seen the buses running almost empty for the past year.

Tshamase proposed in the report that the city ask for more money from the national Transport and Treasury departments.

Mniki said: “The city is currently updating the draft operational and business plans which will be used in support of requesting additional funding. The city will be meeting with NDoT [Transport Department] in due course.”

But the councillor said: “How are we going to ask for more money when we cannot properly account for the money we have been given?”

Another councillor said it would be very difficult to ask for more money to be thrown into a project that had lagged at every turn.

“At the meeting, they downplayed these problems and kept referring to them as ‘snags’ and ‘lessons learnt’. These are far bigger than that.

“This project is in trouble. That’s it,” the councillor said.

The councillor claimed city officials were frustrated because they often negotiated with the taxi industry and, when the talks fell through, taxi bosses would appeal to deputy mayor Chippa Ngcolomba who would then allegedly overrule his officials.

“To be honest, things were better during [former mayor Zanoxolo] Wayile’s time. At least he would stand by his officials. [Ngcolomba] allows these taxi people to negotiate even stuff that is regulated,” he said.

But Mniki “categorically” rejected the allegation. “Previously, operators have attempted to avoid following the agreed procedure of referring impasses/deadlocked matters to the technical task team by approaching the political champions,” he said.

“It must be stated that the executive leadership has demonstrated unwavering commitment and support to the project team.”

Mbona also rejected the allegation, saying: “The only time we met with the deputy mayor was when operators were not paid their R6500 as agreed. He went door to door to those offices to get officials to process the payments,” he said.

The report is to be presented to a steering committee next Friday.
[GOING NOWHERE: Buses are left unattended outside the Perl Road bus depot in Korsten Pictures: EUGENE COETZEE – busses4]
[COSTLY PROJECT: Workers construct IPTS bus lanes in Stanford Road. Motorist have complained about traffic disruptions – iptslane]