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By unknown | Aug 14, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

SO TAXI bosses are threatening to "bring the country to a standstill" in protest against the new bus rapid transit system.

SO TAXI bosses are threatening to "bring the country to a standstill" in protest against the new bus rapid transit system.

It has been on the cards for a while now but matters seem to have come to a head when Johannesburg mayor Amos Masondo announced the start of the Rea Vaya BRT system.

In Cape Town taxi operators have already begun a strike against the system.

I hope the government will be steadfast and not buckle under the pressure and bullying. Given the violent legacy of the taxi industry, it is clear that we are headed for turbulence.

It would not be the first time that the industry clashed with lawmakers. Before 1977 law restricted taxi operations to sedan cars fitted with fare meters.

But, the industry prevailed and regulations were adjusted to allow minibuses with one driver and 15 passengers.

This sector showed a lot of tenacity during the dark days of apartheid. It successfully defied apartheid laws and strict regulations that were prejudicial to blacks.

But the winds of change have been blowing for over a decade now and every sector of our society has had to embrace change and suffer the initial discomforts of adopting a new way of doing business.

Why players in this sector expect things to stay the same is baffling. They started the industry and therefore have complete ownership of public transport and our roads. What a nerve!

Speaking to taxi operators one gets a sense that they are not open to entertaining a new way of doing business.

They are prepared to negotiate as long as the final outcome is in their favour: Either the government gives them control of the new system or they continue their dominance of our roads with their mobile coffins.

Our safety, choices and rights are not a consideration at all.

In fairness, the taxi industry has made a momentous contribution to the economy of this country, but that does not give operators and drivers the right to own our roads and decide what happens on them.

The industry is estimated to have a turnover of about R16,5billion but its precise contribution to the gross domestic product is not well documented because many operators are not registered taxpayers.

We should acknowledge that the convenience, easy access and affordability of the taxi industry have made it the preferred choice of public transport for many commuters.

According to a number of sources, public transport by taxis accounts for 65percent of the transport total, 20percent by bus and 15percent by rail. Clearly, this is not a sector that can be ignored and any changes to our public transport infrastructure cannot be implemented without their involvement.

But the government has done all that is reasonable to negotiate and have a dialogue with the industry. It is time to stand up to them.

Our government has a history of cowering in fear of taxi operators.

So many targets have not been met. The taxi recapitalisation programme initiated in 1999 was a crucial development but it predictably ran aground.

The government insists that the plan is still in place but all evidence points to our leaders retreating from the force of taxi operators.

But our leaders must remember that their responsibility is not only towards the taxi industry but to South Africans.

The needs of the entire population and the development of our economy far outweigh the concerns of an industry that rules our streets with an iron fist.

Competition and accountability cannot be wished away - they form part of the lexicon of modern business.

To remain viable and maintain its appeal to consumers, every industry and business must up its game.

Clearly, taxi operators refuse to understand this - after all, their preferred weapon of dealing with competition is the gun.

Even the very commuters they serve are too intimidated to speak their minds and exercise their choices.

It is the government's duty to speak on their behalf and protect all road users.

Our policy makers must play open cards and create an environment for the taxi industry to continue to thrive.

It is not in our interest for it to be obliterated, but the doors for other players MUST open.


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