The Democratic Alliance (DA) in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) extends its deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in the devastating R34 crash earlier this week, where a taxi and a truck collided killing 16 people. These horrific accidents are taking place too frequently and the Department of Transport (DoT) cannot shy away from the fact that our province needs more law enforcement officers. The DA sincerely hopes that as we approach the peak season, MEC Bheki Ntuli will prioritize the fast-tracking of filling RTI vacancies so that visible patrols on our roads will increase.
After 26 years of democracy, there is no doubt that there has been a massive improvement in our country’s public transport infrastructure. Many communities who were previously disadvantaged under the apartheid government can now enjoy decent roads connecting them to schools, clinics, hospitals, jobs and other neighboring communities.
But in order to continuously grow and to ensure proper services for the people of KZN, it is essential that, where there are problems they are dealt with immediately and that they are not left to simmer for years on end before the DoT finally tries to fix it when it is so damaged it can no longer operate. This also means that when some officials detour from the plan of providing a safe, integrated, reliable and affordable public transport system, the MEC must be quick to root these poor, corrupt and fraudulent performers and not wait for them to benefit themselves – pocketing millions of Rands – and then simply dismiss them without any action being taken or money recovered.
It is on the issue of the poor performance of officials and the disaster that this has created within the taxi industry that the DA will reflect today. The reality is that greedy, corrupt officials and politicians still want to get in on the action and create further havoc on a system that could have been easily monitored and managed.
The disaster facing the taxi industry today is in fact a true reflection of the corrupt interference which has filtered down and contributed to a disruptive, corrupt and mismanaged public transport system.
A good example is that of taxi drivers, owners and innocent passengers who have died due to ongoing violence within the industry. Whenever such incidents take place, we hear of a task team being set up to investigate and bring calm to the chaos. Yet, no one has ever had sight of any task team report to date. This while passengers, who are often sole bread winners, and children commuting to school are dying as a result of this violence.
The saga of taxi violence began years ago, yet no one within KZN’s leadership structure seems to actually want to fix the problems. This is clear from the lack of proactive steps taken and the reactive approach to every crisis. The question is – what is the real reason for this constant disruption to our public transport system?
And who is to blame? The following serves as examples of government’s apathy when it comes to the ongoing saga that is taxi violence and lack of regulation.
In 1997 government tried to legalize all taxi operators for route permits, encouraging law abiding citizens in a safe public transport environment and initiated a campaign called “be legal”. Shortly thereafter, in an effort to now make passengers a priority through the provision of safe, road worthy vehicles and further ensuring compliance on the roads, government initiated “Operation Shanela”. The campaign sought to ensure that passengers would be treated with dignity and respect, drivers would follow the route based permit and most importantly – that non-compliance would see permits withdrawn.
Had this campaign been aggressively enforced, KZN would have had zero illegal taxi operators. And had there been competent senior officials managing the process of permit applications, KZN would not have had a backlog. Instead, this situation led to taxi operators protesting against the campaign and senior political leaders, now under pressure, slowly drove away from this effective campaign and chose to give in to illegal operators.
Fast forward 22 years and R7 million has been lost due to a scheme operating under MEC Ntuli’s nose, where officials were selling route permits to taxi operators. Not only has this led to an increase in taxi violence, it has also led to more innocent passengers dying as well as taxi owners and taxi operators. Yet, to date, no one has questioned the clearly incompetent senior managers on the dysfunctional process of issuing of operating licenses. In KZN, senior officials are waiting on the Hawks to intervene while R7million in taxpayers’ money has been wasted.
Then there is the Go Durban project, which commenced in 2013 and which is set to be completed by 2030, would have provided the city with a world-class transport system, conveniently connecting commuters to various parts of the city with interlinked bus lines, railroad and stations, thereby reducing the carbon footprint. This integrated transport network costing more than R20billion required professional city planners, together with highly skilled people who are part of a workstream so that the goal of completing this project by 2030.
A look at the Durban website still tells people that by 2030 Go Durban will have shaped the city into a globally recognized, world class destination. Clearly someone needs to inform municipal officials that the project now needs another 25 years to be completed due to all of the interruptions it has faced. What this means is that a project initially planned for completion within 17 years would now take 37 years to complete. Apart from the delays in the completion date, the project has been rife with many problems which include;
• The City could not spend the budget that was allocated to it, just last year it underspent on the project by R309 million which was then returned to Treasury
• The first three phases were supposed to be operational by 2018, instead, the Go Live date keeps moving
• In 2018, the Auditor-General said the municipality was paying, even when work was not done and the project was delayed
• Then there are the short-comings in tender contracts, the downing of tools as a result of ongoing protests by labourers and – let’s not forget – the contribution of the taxi industry who stopped projects and closed sites, causing delays
• Today, after spending more than R3billion on the project, not a single bus that was purchased is running and;
• Then there is the Moja Cruise Taxi programme, launched by former eThekwini Mayor, Zandile Gumede, in 2018 with 500 taxi operators, costing the city millions of Rands – with the promise to integrate over 6 000 operators into the Go! Durban plan. The effectiveness of this campaign is anyone’s guess as there has been no oversight on this project. Clearly it seems that the taxi operators who have not been integrated are tired of waiting and are here to collect.
After MEC Ntuli tabled his report in the Legislature last week, he tried to conduct an oversight on the state of readiness of the Go Durban project only to be stopped and locked in an office in Pinetown because taxi operators wanted to be heard. That they should have the power to bring Pinetown’s city centre to a standstill because they feel that they are being ignored should be an embarrassment to the MEC and his Department.
If MEC Ntuli is serious about being proactive and providing a safe public transport system to the people of our province, then he must take back control of our roads. In addition, he must strengthen the application process of issuing taxi route permits and also commit to frequent auditing. He must also ensure that the Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) vacancy rate in the province is dealt with so that there is more visible law enforcement, more often, on our roads. He must also review the entire route system and restart this process in consultation with all taxi operators – including the those within the private sector such as e-hailing and Uber – to ensure that route permits clearly stipulate point A to point B. Finally, he must hold non-performing officials accountable. If he can fix these critical areas he will begin to fix part of the problem that is contributing to violence in the industry.