World football body Fifa says it will transport foreign spectators itself during next year’s World Cup if the government does not resolve issues affecting the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) ahead of the tournament.

Taxi bosses have labelled this “disappointing”, with some even threatening bloodshed.

And at a lecture in Cape Town on Monday night, Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin said he was “desperately worried” about the future of the BRT system in the Western Cape, and has called on the DA and the opposition in the province and city to set aside their political differences to ensure development and delivery takes place.

Taxi bosses have threatened to make the World Cup ungovernable if the BRT system, which forms part of the bigger integrated rapid transit (IRT) system, is not scrapped.

Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele is expected to meet industry players to discuss how to deal with the problem over the next few weeks.

Speaking during a stop-over in Cape Town, Hans Klaus, Fifa’s director of communications and public affairs, said the organisation was taking “precautionary measures”.

He said spectators could be transported through Match Hospitality, Fifa’s partner, if the BRT problems remained unresolved.

“We are aware of the problem with this new transport system and have made it very clear to the government that the issue should be resolved before the World Cup,” said Klaus.

“However, we do take measures on our side and, if needs be, we will be transporting spectators during that period.”

Klaus added that many of their spectator travel packages, through Match Hospitality, would in any event include transport to and from matches.

“Although we are concerned, we still have time before the World Cup and hope that these issues will be resolved,” he said.

But taxi operators are determined to see the BRT system “done away with”, despite promises from transport authorities that the new system will work in their favour.

Phillip Taaibosch, chairman of the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco), said taxi operators still don’t know whether the system would be implemented.

He said operators were waiting for a meeting with Ndebele to express their concerns. “We will only know the way forward after meeting with the minister,” said Taaibosch.

He said it would be “absolutely disappointing” should Fifa transport foreign spectators. Taaibosch added that it was unfortunate that local municipalities were going ahead with the construction of BRT lanes and stations.

Mvuyisile Mente, spokesperson for the Western Cape National Taxi Alliance (NTA), said going ahead with the BRT system in Cape Town “means trouble for the Western Cape”. He said there would be “destruction” if any other operators were found on any of the historic routes during the World Cup.

“There will be blood on our new premier’s hands,” said Mente. “We are saying no to BRT until we know that the system is a viable option.”

Cronin, explaining his concerns over the BRT system after the Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust’s 76th open dialogue at UCT on Monday night, said parties should not allow their differences to undermine the importance of collaborating on delivery.

“We must resist the temptation as the ANC, in our case, of trying to score cheap political points” to the detriment of delivery, he said.

Cronin said threats to render the province ungovernable formed part of his concern, and said that both the ANC and the DA leadership needed to build a co-operative relationship.

Cronin said he and Ndebele would this week meet officials in four cities and thereafter key stakeholders, including the taxi and trade union sectors, regarding the BRT system.

Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato said the city had not yet been given any instructions to continue with negotiations after they were halted by the the national government before the April elections.

If the process is to continue, national government needs to discuss this with the taxi industry, he said. It would have a huge impact on the 2010 tournament and the transport industry if the process was halted, said Plato.

“The city does not want the taxi industry to hold it hostage.”

AUTHOR: Clayton Barnes and Ella Smook
DATED: 19th May 2009