Government wants the taxi industry to participate in the entire transport value chain, Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said on Friday.

Speaking during debate in the National Assembly on his budget vote, Ndebele said on June 11 he had met over 2000 taxi industry representatives from taxi associations and their organised structures nationally.

Prior to that, fruitful discussions were held with leaders of the SA National Taxi Council.

“On 26 June 2009 we met the leadership of the National Taxi Alliance (NTA) and held similar consultations with provincial departments and affected municipalities.

“We are now all ready to start a ‘Codesa’ of the taxi industry.

“We will encourage the industry to participate in the entire transport value chain,” he said.

This included buses, freight, rail, transport finance, and fuel, among many others.

The structured engagement would initially focus on five strategic areas.

These were implementing the bus rapid transit system (BRT) and other integrated public transport network projects, taxi subsidisation and the taxi recapitalisation programme, legislation, licensing and regulatory issues, enterprise development, and communication and stakeholder engagement.

The working group would submit an interim report in August and implementation would start by October. Referring to industry representatives in the public gallery, he said their presence indicated “a new leaf in our relationship as partners and stakeholders in the transport sector”.

“We can say we have now entered a phase that is not going to be characterised by conflict.

“If 2009 is a turning point let it not be said that the taxi industry did not turn,” Ndebele said.

“Our experience teaches us that the mere building of road and parking facilities can neither be sufficient nor sustainable.

“The integration of taxis, buses and rail in all municipalities is therefore of paramount importance.

“We will implement integrated ticketing to ensure seamless movement between the various transport modes.

“We are thus planning to implement the integrated rapid public transport networks in eight major cities and identified rural networks,” he said.

These were Johannesburg, Tshwane, Cape Town, eThekwini, Polokwane, Nelson Mandela, Mbombela and Mangaung.

Ndebele said it should be acknowledge that the bus sector was experiencing problems and required urgent intervention.

Durban Transport, one of the subsidised bus services was beset with problems and the present operator opted to discontinue services within eThekwini as from July 1.

The operator cited inadequate subsidies and escalating fuel costs as key to its difficulties.
“Together with the eThekwini Metro and the KwaZulu-Natal department of transport we will find alternative operators as a matter of urgency.”

New operators would start on August 1 for a period of 12 months.

The city was finalising discussions with taxi and other bus services to provide additional trips during July to maintain ongoing services.

The new operators would only provide management services and drivers since the fleet and depot facilities were owned by the municipality.

“We will soon release a plan to grow the bus sector as part of local integrated networks and city-to-city services.

The BRT system and the subsidy system were part of this initiative, he said.

Government was also investing R25 billion over the medium-term expenditure framework period to stabilise and upgrade rail passenger transport services in the country.

Of these, R14-billion was being spent to upgrade rail passenger infrastructure and rolling stock while the balance would be funding for rail operations.

PRASA, formerly the SA Rail Commuter Corporation, had shown its capacity to absorb the huge capital allocations, and in some instances, had exceeded the capital funds allocated to it.

Increased spending on rail infrastructure would be of vital importance in the current economic climate and in sustaining jobs.

While the R25-billion allocated remained vital to upgrading rail  passenger transport, this intervention would not resolve the key underlying challenges facing rail in the long-term.

“We should be forward-looking and start investing in a manner that will meet future transport requirements.”

The future for inter-city travel, for example, would be in high-speed rail where the travel times for passengers would be significantly reduced. This would allow passengers and freight to move with speed, and the competitiveness of rail would be enhanced.

A tender for upgrading the entire signalling system had already been issued. This would result in the introduction of a single, modern signalling platform that would enable rail operators to increase frequencies, move trains with greater speed, and ensure safety in rail operations, Ndebele said.