Mary Papayya and Canaan Mdletshe
eThekwini municipality, in a last-ditch effort to overcome the crisis caused by the shutting down of its public bus service, yesterday turned to the taxi industry for help.
In an effort to show appreciation for the industry stepping in to fill the gap, the city offered to "suspend enforcement" on taxi operators during peak periods.
Enforcement relating to driver offences and overloading will continue.
But it seems the deal has not gone down well with the taxi industry; yesterday they suspended their chairperson Eugene Hadebe, who negotiated with the city to suspend enforcement and outstanding warrants.
eThekwini municipality deputy manager Derek Naidoo said the city would also suspend outstanding warrants and permits for March and April.
"We call upon the taxi industry to support the city in transporting commuters," Naidoo said.
"The city has decided to suspend enforcement during peak periods and to suspend the enforcement of outstanding warrants and permits for March and April."
In rejecting the city offer, the KZN Taxi Alliance - representing over 17000 taxi operators in the province - said the municipality had struck the deal with Hadebe.
The reasons for Hadebe's suspension were not given.
General secretary Bafana Mhlongo said Hadebe had no mandate to represent the industry.
"He is suspended. We cannot discuss the reasons until after a disciplinary hearing," he said.
Mhlongo said all matters pertaining to the city were "not binding".
"We will be going to court on the continued harassment of our drivers by the metro police. We don't accept an agreement that was struck with Hadebe."
Mhlongo said while they would approach taxi associations to extend working hours for their drivers to assist commuters left stranded by the shutting down of the bus service, such a service would be conditional on the city guaranteeing their safety and that of the taxi operators.
"We don't want our taxis to be shot at in the townships at night." Mhlongo said. "We also want the city to guarantee our safety as well as other incentives." He would not elaborate on what the incentives were.
Hadebe, meanwhile, is sticking to his guns. "I negotiated with the city as the legitimate chairman. I don't recognise any suspension. I have the interests of the taxi operators at heart and will continue to serve them."
The municipality last week suspended the bus service after accusing operator Remant of being in breach of contract.
The city wants Remant to remedy the breach by April 14, which includes providing a reliable service of mechanically sound buses, and to address labour-related gripes.
Remant, a private company owned by businessmen Jay Singh, was awarded the tender for the bus service for R70million in 2003.
The service was run so poorly that the municipality had to buy back the service in September last year for R405million.
There has been no explanation from the company as to what led to the fleet's deterioration and why the original fleet of 560 buses was reduced to 150.