Thursday, 7 May 2009

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

For my international readers, the background is this:

South Africa does not have an effective public transport system. There is no underground (tube) and the rail service that we do have is in a horrendous state. The trains are mostly old and not very well maintained. They are a safety risk - both from a maintenance point of view and personal safety with regard to crime.

We have a taxi industry, but it is not the kind of taxi you may be familiar with. This industry is (mostly) the only form of transport that the poor have in South Africa. A taxi, in South Africa, usually means a minibus, which generally seats around 14 people. The taxi industry in South Africa is run by a few taxi bosses who make a great deal of money and mostly feel they are above the law. The majority of serious and fatal accidents on South Africa's roads are caused by taxis. Most car owners in South Africa will tell you that their biggest headache on the roads (especially in peak times) is caused by taxis. Mostly (yes I am generalising) taxis do not obey the rules of the road. They use the emergency lanes to reach their destinations faster, they jump across traffic-lights before they turn green, they cut in front of anyone and everyone in the traffic, they over-load their vehicles and their worst offence is to not maintain their vehicles at an acceptable level - the most dangerous thing I have ever seen was a taxi with no steering wheel, the driver was using a wrench to steer. Say What?

End of background, start of grievance..

Now, the South African Government has been trying to launch a new bus system so as to improve our public transport ahead of 2010 (Soccer World Cup) as well as, in the long run, provide a safe and reliable transport system for the workers and poor in South Africa. As you can imagine, the taxi industry is not very happy with this idea as it will be direct competition for them. So, instead of taking their grievances to government in a formal manner and following procedures, what do they do??? They decide to threaten the very government who is their only hope of survival.

We are now under threat that taxi bosses will not allow government to implement this system as they say they "will hold the country to ransom, start a war, there will be bloodshed and they will cripple the economy" if government do not give them what they want.. ummm.. PARDON??

They strike, blockade roads, go on the rampage and generally raise hell on South Africa's (Gauteng province) national roads. They fire guns, beat each other up and intimidate bus drivers. They then threaten Government that if their demands are not met they will disrupt The Soccer World Cup.

And so, in response to these threats, our new President today announced that we will be putting BRT on hold until further investigation is done into how this will affect the taxi industry..

Well done Jacob Zuma.. well done! Once of your first acts as President of South Africa is to cave under manipulation from a lawless industry..

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