Metro bus service gets R93m lifeline

Nelson Mandela Bay’s stagnant bus system has been given a lifeline, with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s department allocating R93.1-million towards the roll-out of the project. This is a boost for the Integrated Public Transport System (IPTS), which was not allotted any funds for the 2016-17 financial year when Gordhan delivered his budget in February. While the grant from the national Treasury is significantly lower than the R158-million roll-over the municipality applied for, it will still go a long way towards ensuring the project is launched in April. This is according to the metro’s political head of the roads and transport department, councillor Rano Kayser, who said yesterday his department would be going back to the drawing board to adjust its plans, which had been based on getting the full amount it had applied for. The R93.1-million will have to be spent before the end of the financial year, which is June 30. The municipality has not been able to spend on IPTS projects since July as it was waiting for the roll-over approval from the Treasury. The letter of approval came through about a week ago. Acting city manager Johann Mettler confirmed that the metro would receive R93.1-million. Kayser said the money was expected to be transferred by the middle of next month. “It’s not what we asked for, but at least it’s something,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we must go into a corner and cry.” The municipality did not spend its R186-million grant in the previous financial year as IPTS spending was put on hold while a forensic investigation was carried out into how the more than R2-billion poured into the project had been spent. The Treasury has yet to release the final report to the municipality, despite handing over a draft more than a year ago. The report is said to contain explosive allegations of wide-scale corruption. Kayser said they were still targeting April as a realistic date to roll out the Cleary Park route first – which would run from Cleary Park to the Port Elizabeth central business district and to NMMU. The Njoli Square route would be rolled out in the following financial year and the Uitenhage route the year after. Kayser said the grant from the Treasury would be spent on upgrading IPTS infrastructure and buying a ticketing system for the buses. “We are going back to the drawing board to see how we are going to stretch these funds,” he said. A decision still had to be made on whether all 25 of the IPTS buses would be used when the project was launched in April. Asked about the relationship between the metro’s new political administration and the taxi industry, Kayser said it was cordial. “Draft MOAs [memorandums of agreement] have been exchanged and each party has been given an opportunity to respond,” he said. However, Laphum’ilanga chief executive Gregory Rockman, who represents taxi bodies in the Bay, said the only draft MOA they recognised was the one that had been presented before the August 3 local government elections. “Any MOA after that we don’t know about it because after the elections there have been no negotiations on the MOA,” Rockman said. He said members of the industry would have a meeting with the municipality today to discuss the way forward. Rockman said he was disappointed that the metro had not received the full amount it applied for from the Treasury. “It’s a big blow for the project,” he said. “The city only has itself to blame for not getting the full amount.”