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2008-07-15: To BRT or not to BRT?

THIS is possibly the most important dilemma facing the Minibus-taxi Industry and its leadership in its history. Whatever answer the Industry ultimately makes, the proposed Rea Vaya project could completely change the profile of the public transport system and stakeholders involved in it in the City of Joburg over the next few years.

The proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is not exclusive to Joburg. Most of the Metropolitan areas across the country have adopted the BRT as a core element in the process of transforming the public transport systems in the urban areas.

The City of Joburg has advanced the furthest with regard to the BRT and is the first in line to deal with numerous challenges in this regard.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is how to address and/or transform the current public transport operators (majority of which belong to the minibus-taxi industry) in the City without causing major social and economic casualties.

The leadership of the Joburg Minibus-taxi Industry equally faces many tasks, issues and its own challenges for the first time with no options to rely on similar experiences elsewhere in the country.

Since November 2006, when the Joburg City Council announced the BRT project, the two Minibus-taxi Structures in Joburg (Regional Taxi Council and Top Six) through their executives have been going through a highly challenging process of trying to understand the new public transport system and prepare an adequate platform to protect and improve the business interests of their members as far as possible.

The executives of the two Minibus-taxi Structures have made all efforts to ensure that proper engagement and consultation takes place between the City and Minibus-taxi Industry. The two structures have formed joint Management Committees to deal with the project tasks. The Joint BRT Steering Committee of the Joburg Minibus-taxi Industry has then approached the City with the draft Memorandum of Understanding to formalise the City's commitment in engaging the Industry through the proper empowerment process. The MoU was signed in the second half of 2007.

In terms of the MoU, the City has been allocating adequate resources since the beginning of 2007 to assist the Industry along the way. Some of the main activities thus far relate to the inclusion of the leaders of eighteen Taxi Associations in Joburg onto the study tour to South America in August 2007, providing resources for professional assistance to the Industry, organising venues for meetings and workshops of the Industry, setting-up a project office and allocating adequate office space and equipment to the Industry, ensuring an open-door policy to the political leadership of the City etc.

The leadership of the Taxi Industry in Joburg have been exposed to the unpacking of the BRT over the last 15 months and perhaps understand basic principles of possible business opportunities for the taxi industry at this stage. The general membership of the Taxi Industry has still not been engaged to the adequate extent and this communication gap is one of the major challenges at present. The Joint BRT Steering Committee has scheduled a roadshow over the next couple of weeks to visit every Taxi Association identified as affected in the early phases of the BRT implementation in order to address and clarifies the BRT project as far as possible.

There are still many tasks to be undertaken by the City and Taxi Industry before the question posed in the title of this article could be answered. The leadership of the Industry is, however, committed to guide its members to answer this question at the right time and with full confidence that the decision made would serve and better their business interest in the best possible way.