The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) may end up striking on its own next week – at least when it comes to cities outside Johannesburg – with key taxi operators in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town ignoring the Pretoria-based organisation’s calls for a national strike.

Enthusiasm for a national strike, called by Santaco last week to protest against implementation of the Rea Vaya bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Johannesburg, is lacking in the other two cities that are rolling out similar networks. Rea Vaya starts operations on Sunday.

At the heart of Santaco’s lobbying is an attempt to create a role for itself in influencing the way contracts, such as ticketing, are doled out in BRT projects nationwide. The government has said these decisions fall within a city’s competency, which potentially leaves Santaco with less influence than before in the brave new world of South African public transport. Local taxi operators have little sympathy.

“We are not going to heed to the call of Santaco to participate in the strike,” said Melekile Hani, chairman of the Nelson Mandela Bay Public Transport Forum, the 10-association body negotiating with Nelson Mandela Bay metro.

“We are surprised by this call now when the negotiations are going our way and Santaco wants to jeopardise the process. We cannot at this stage do that. In this region, we are negotiating in good faith with the municipality.”

In Cape Town, a spokesman for the Peninsula Taxi Association, which stands to lose 80% of its inner-city traffic when the Mother City’s integrated regional transport network is rolled out from May next year, said it would not strike, even though it is a Santaco affiliate.

“Because we have so much at risk, we are best suited to negotiate the process. We have been very open with the city, despite the mounting pressure from the outside industry to halt all talk,” said Ghaalid Behardien.

But Santaco’s Western Cape chairman Vernon Billet said all members would “definitely” back the strike.

Santaco is the government- recognised and funded national taxi body, but the difference between it and local taxi associations lays bare the fault lines in the industry.

The 10 Port Elizabeth associations broke off their affiliation with Santaco last month. Hani says his forum members cut ties because they did not want to take part in a joint national working group set up between the government and the industry, represented at the top by Santaco. Ironically, Santaco called next week’s strike because it says Johannesburg is making decisions that are the responsibility of the working group.

Separately, Eric Motshwane, a member of the steering committee negotiating Rea Vaya with Johannesburg, criticised Santaco’s claim last week that the national government had not shown how it would guarantee remuneration for taxi operators signing up to Rea Vaya.

“How do they know that? They’re not in the negotiation process. The city can only disclose that to affected operators. How do they know what the city’s offering? They’re misleading people,” Motshwane said.

The steering committee will today say it has formally begun negotiations with the city to form an operating company that will run Rea Vaya.