Phase one of the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system will start operating in two weeks,Johannesburg executive mayor Amos Masondo said in a statement today.

Disgrantled taxi owners and drivers turned the city into a war zone as they protested the official launch of the bus system in November last year.

The issue has not yet been resolved, and Masondo said the city was stil in negotiations with taxi associations.

“When Rea Vaya starts operating, it will be with a starter service that will gradually be built up to a full Phase 1A service over the next six months. We are introducing this starter service while we are finalising negotiations with the taxi industry to establish a Bus Operating Company that will ultimately own and manage Rea Vaya,” he said.

Masondo said an interim company called Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) has been established to act on behalf of the affected taxi operators and to manage Rea Vaya until negotiations were finalised.

“The door remains open for all those who wish to become part of this important process. In addition, I would like to take this opportunity to wish the negotiations well,” Masondo said.

With a mere 302 days left before the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament, Masondo appeared confident the bus sytem would be fully operatinal by then.

“The 30th of August 2009 will indeed be a major milestone for the City of Johannesburg. This is the day that Phase 1A of Rea Vaya – the first BRT system in South Africa – will officially start operating.

“The journey that led us to this day has been one of tireless commitment and determination by the City, our partners and the citizens and residents of Johannesburg,” Masondo said.

Some taxi associations maintained that the City was out of line by pushing forward with the BRT while negotiations were still underway. Others said they embraced the system.