Taxi operators working with the City of Johannesburg on its planned rapid bus transit (BRT) system say the fight over the “value chain” of peripheral businesses resulting from the Rea Vaya network is an attempt by the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) to take control.

While members of the 15-taxi association steering committee who have been negotiating with the city over implementation of the system, which is due to start running on June 1, are pitted against other members of their own industry who oppose the BRT system, the fight over peripheral businesses, worth as much as R500m, exposes wider splits in the industry.

Detailed negotiations with the city have been put on hold pending President Jacob Zuma’s April 20 call for a halt to allow his new administration to get to grips with the topic. Johannesburg steering committee members, who comprise local associations affected by the initial roll-out of the Johannesburg system, say Santaco wants to control value-chain businesses.

“That one is very clear. They have said it plainly. They said they want to drive the project. What’s in it for them as Santaco? If they are seeking benefit, what will be the benefit for the ordinary operator on the ground?” said Sicelo Mabaso, chairman of the Top Six association and a member of the steering committee.

Mabaso is also chairman of the National Taxi Alliance (NTA), a rival body to the government-recognised Santaco, but he said he does not represent the NTA when he negotiates over Rea Vaya for his local Johannesburg association.

His concerns are echoed by another member of the steering committee, Eric Motshwane, chairman of the Greater Johannesburg Regional Taxi Council. Santaco was fighting for control over the value chain, said Motshwane.

“If they can have exclusive rights to the whole value chain, that’s what they want to achieve. So our shareholding as affected operators on the ground is diluted.”

Santaco says it should play a key role in the value chain.

“Santaco is the custodian of taxi business in the country. All these bus ventures on behalf of the industry, obviously Santaco will play a role in that,” said spokesman Thabisho Molelekwa yesterday.

With the contract to operate and manage buses in Rea Vaya’s initial Phase 1A roll-out worth an estimated R2bn- R2,5bn, it is the biggest single contract and will account for about 80% of the total value of BRT-related business, according to Johannesburg city technical adviser Darko Skrbinsen.

The remaining 20% comes from businesses such as station management, maintenance and cleaning, advertising and security, ticketing systems, cash management and managing electronic passenger-information systems. The potential value for these in the first phase alone is as much as R500m.