I have noted with deep concern the misinterpretation of the Nelson Mandela Bay metro’s intentions to ensure the roll-out of the Libhongolethu Integrated Public Transport Service (IPTS) by some – and the understandable apprehension by a few of our friends in the media.
The doubt that has been cast on the roll-out of this service, however, does not lack basis and is reasonably justified.
Many a time the call has been broadcast for all to hear – far and wide – that the Libhongolethu service will be rolled out in the metro and yet various factors have impeded this materialising.
These factors have ranged from allegations of corruption, infrastructure integrity and budget allocations to marathon negotiations with some representatives of the taxi industry.
The current administration of the NMBM has inherited some of these factors, with some continuing to hold to ransom the roll-out of the IPTS.
We have ironed out, however, the issue of capital infrastructure, secured further funding and co-operated to ensure that those implicated in the corruption that nearly crippled this service find an opportunity to redeem themselves in the courts of law.
The only hurdle, thus far, has been the meaningful commitment of some of the taxi industry representatives for the metro to implement other facets of the system that will roll out a comprehensive public transport service for the people of this city.
I must categorically state (and publicly so) that the metro enters all negotiations that are meant to better the lives of our people in good faith – and without prejudice.
We have rolled up our sleeves in this regard and are always ensuring that mistakes of the past are not repeated.
History has taught some of us that repeating the same thing and expecting a different result is an indication of resistance to growth.
It is the same history that had placed us in a situation in which transportation of the masses was not the priority of the apartheid government.
It is that accident of history which gave birth to the sprawling taxi industry in our townships which – in a country that does not have our history – has public transportation primarily as the responsibility of government.
This, only in secondary terms, it shares with the private sector.
It is that same responsibility that is found with other aspects of our lives as citizens, such as health, education and sanitation, which without the subsidisation of and partnership with government will not be affordable to our people.
The growth of our democracy identified this legacy.
It is the white paper and the National Land Transport Act 5 of 2009 and its regulations which facilitated that our taxi industry be geared for transformation towards participating in the mainstream economy.
The government took it upon itself to be an enabler in this regard.
Particular attention was employed towards transformation of the taxi industry and, equally important, accessibility, reliability, affordability and safety for the commuters, without reducing the current levels of profit for the licensed minibus taxi owners and bus companies as affected operators.
The Nelson Mandela Bay metro is one of 13 local government structures identified to roll out this IPTS and remains, sadly, among those that have not implemented it.
Billions of rand have been invested by the taxpayer in this scheme in terms of infrastructure, vehicles and milestone payments to the taxi operators and their broker agents, but the roads stand bare and ready to carry serviced buses that are docked in the depot.
Rolling out this service has only been stalled by one hurdle – the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the metro, and the affected operators in the bus and taxi industry.
The signing of this document activates other stakeholders, agencies and systems providers, so that the metro can enjoy the implementation of a comprehensive public transport system.
The preference of the National Land Transport Act is to have a contracting authority, as our metro is, to enter into a memorandum of agreement with affected operators.
They, through their respective associations, conclude the formalisation of a relationship with the metro that will form commercial entities to run the service which will be referred to as the vehicle operating company (VOC).
The metro and its officials do not have discretionary powers to wish who should represent the taxi associations in the negotiations towards the formation of the VOC.
It is also not within the powers vested in my office or higher to turn away taxi associations when they approach and, in other instances even march to my office, to say, “We have withdrawn the proxy which we had extended to third parties to represent us as taxi associations, negotiate with us directly, we do not want brokers to negotiate on our behalf! We want to form the VOC ourselves!”
The Cleary Park route has been identified by my directorate and its implementing agency, the IPTS office, as the most feasible route in terms of infrastructure readiness.
It is against that backdrop that all four affected operators along that route – Algoa Taxi Association (ATA), Northern Areas Operating Taxi Association (NAOTA), Norwich Long Distance Taxi Association and East Cape Long Distance Taxi Association – have signed a memorandum of agreement with the metro.
As an indication of commitment by both parties, the metro has enlisted a hundred taxi drivers from the associations to enrol at the driving academy that the metro has initiated in partnership with the bus manufacturer.
The academy is training and empowering them to provide a safe, professional and reliable service to the IPTS commuters.
All 100 are undergoing a learner’s licence examination in groups.
My office, and by extension the metro, did not canvass the taxi associations to withdraw their power of attorney, which they had over the years extended to third parties in the form of secondary co-operatives.
As a precautionary measure in protecting and consolidating the unity of our taxi industry, my office consulted with the umbrella bodies of the taxi industry in the regional office and advised them of the stalemate.
The regional office had no principled objection to the solution that the affected operators – through their associations – could represent themselves directly.
We were further advised that any third party in a form of a company or co-operative that represented the taxi industry was not a taxi association, but a commercial vehicle that currently served as a broker agent for the taxi associations.
It is not in the interests of the metro and its administration to dictate to the taxi industry or their associations who should represent them.
We welcome all delegations who represent the taxi industry when they are duly appointed to be true representatives of the industry or association/s.
The representative bodies, moreover, need to meet all their fiduciary requirements and legislative imperatives with regard to their composition, delegated authority, extent and duration of that authority.
We cannot, as a statutory institution, be found wanting in adherence to the provisions of our own legislation as failure thereto has reprisals during the auditing processes.
This the IPTS cannot afford to have red-flagged as a permanent statistic.
We will eventually engage with commercial representatives of the taxi associations as we are not against this, be they in whatever form that is recognised under the Companies Act when we conclude the contract.
However, doing so now, the associations and my directorate are agreed that it is equivalent to placing the cart before the horse.
The unity of the taxi industry, albeit in their different associations, is of paramount importance to the metro as such unity ensures that everybody is on board and going forward.
Therefore the transition towards a safe, reliable and affordable public transport service becomes a smooth ride.
No extent of delay, be it in the vandalising of our roads infrastructure or the buses docked in the holding area, will deter us.
Our people deserve this service.
Rano Kayser is the member of the NMB mayoral committee for roads and transport.