CITY leaders and taxi bosses in Nelson Mandela Bay have struck a deal to pay R5.5-million owed to the industry, paving the way for the long-awaited bus system to finally get off the ground – hopefully, this year.
The agreement, along with other plans about how the Integrated Public Transport System (IPTS) will work and which routes will be used, are all subject to the council’s approval.
The council is scheduled to meet on Thursday.
The deal follows a series of meetings between Laphum’ilanga Transport Services and city officials in recent weeks in a bid to resolve the stalemate over a monthly subsidy previously paid to them by the municipality.
The subsidy was for the 59 taxi operators and ambassadors whose vehicles were taken off the Summerstrand route in 2013 to make way for the bus system.
Deputy mayor Bicks Ndoni, who chaired the meetings, said yesterday the national Department of Transport had agreed that the R5.5-million payment to the taxi owners be made.
Last year, the department had instructed the municipality not to pay a cent more to the taxi industry until further phases of the IPTS were on track.
Ndoni said the Department of Transport had not only reversed its October decision, it had also agreed to give the metro R186-million for the IPTS – which had to be used before the end of the financial year on June 30.
Ndoni and Laphum’ilanga chief executive Gregory Rockman said the national government had appealed to the city to come up with a more cost-effective plan of getting the IPTS up and running again.
This comes as all the cities that have implemented similar systems are battling to make them financially sustainable.
“We have agreed that this project must not be a burden on the ratepayers, it has to find ways to fund itself,” Ndoni said.
“The IPTS was modelled around some cities in Europe, but the whole set-up in South Africa is different. “Unemployment is rife here. “The dilemma facing cities here is that the demand is high in the mornings and in the evenings, but there is no activity during the day,” Ndoni said.
“When we roll out the project, we’re not likely to break even, but we have agreed to sit down and work through ways in which to mitigate that deficit.”
Ndoni said the R186-million would only be released, however, if the city and taxi industry reached an agreement.
“The budget for the 2015-16 financial year was R372-million and because of the standoff, only R3.5-million was used,” he said.
“The [transport department] then withdrew all its funding.
“It has now agreed to release R186-million for the remainder of the financial year.
“We will then conclude our financial modelling and once the business plan is approved by both the council and [transport department], the starter service will be implemented based on a scaled-down approach.” Rockman said July 1 was targeted as the date for the rollout.
“We were targeting July 1 as our rollout date, but we are putting plans in place to fasttrack the process to roll it out sooner,” he said. Ndoni said: “We are cautious about announcing a starting date, but we will make an announcement soon because we cannot work without a target date in place.”
The three routes that were being considered for the IPTS starter service are: Cleary Park to Summerstrand, Njoli to the Port Elizabeth CBD, and KwaNobuhle to the Uitenhage CDB.
It still had to be decided which of the three routes was the most viable to launch the project.
The other two routes would then be implemented in phases.
Ndoni said they were working well with the taxi industry, and it had been agreed that once all the plans were approved and a route decided upon, all the taxis would be removed from the route to allow the IPTS buses to run.
The taxi owners would be compensated for taking their vehicles off the roads.
Rockman said the system would be policed by the industry to ensure that no other taxis or buses operated on the routes other than the IPTS buses.