Johannesburg taxi owners have vowed to block off the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system’s dedicated lanes around the city when it starts operation if President Jacob Zuma does not heed their call to halt its progress.

This could lead to a turf war in the city’s public transport routes which are being constructed for bus use to make them more efficient.

“We will use the routes they are constructing if they move ahead and leave us behind,” warned United Taxi Associations Forum (UTAF) spokesperson Ralf Jones on Friday.

The first phase of the BRT system – also known as Rea Vaya – in Joburg is set to begin operation just before the start of the Confederations Cup tournament on June 14.

However, recent developments, including last month’s taxi owners’ strike demanding that it be halted, has cast doubt that it will meet the deadline.

Officials from the City of Joburg overseeing the BRT refused to be drawn on the matter.

“We are not giving any comment on BRT at the moment, whether on operational matters or not,” said BRT project manager Bob Stanway on Friday.

“We need to give the new government a chance to engage on this and hopefully we will be able to do so at a later stage.”

Joburg metro police spokesperson Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said they had yet to receive a directive from the council on the BRT lanes.

“We will only act when we receive an instruction from the city on who we should not allow to use the bus lanes, but at the moment we don’t know what is going to happen,” he added.

Taxi owners and drivers from various associations met this week, and renewed their declaration to bring the BRT to its knees.

This was after they claimed Zuma had promised to halt the project before the elections and that the government would negotiate with the taxi industry on the BRT after the polls.

However, the industry has expressed concern that the system was going ahead with infrastructure development, contrary to what they believed Zuma had told them.

Jones admitted there may have been a misunderstanding. “That is why we are waiting for him and Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele to settle down so we can start engaging with them,” he said.

“We have our own practical timeframes – but we are not going to pre-empt anything at this stage.”

He said they had not yet received any invitation from Zuma or Ndebele but UTAF members would meet on Monday to discuss the way forward.

The Transport Department said Ndebele needed time to be briefed, but stressed the system would not lead to job losses.

Sicelo Mabaso, a representative of the Top Six Taxi Management in talks between the council and the taxi associations, said the system would be fully owned by taxi owners.

“We are currently negotiating how much each individual taxi owner will get from the operational profits generated by the BRT,” he said. “I don’t think government will betray us as their promises are in writing.”