March 10, 2009

“I’ll Call Army on Taxis” – Zille

TAXI operators today warned that another strike was imminent, after a threat from Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille to call in the army to clamp down on taxi associations that threatened to sow chaos on the city’s road.

News of another planned strike was disclosed ahead of the National Taxi Association (NTA) meeting which was scheduled for this afternoon at the Solomon Mahlangu Hall in Khayelitsha.

The date for the strike was expected to be announced after the meeting, said taxi association spokesman Mviyisi Mente, which was planned to give feedback to members following their meeting with Zille, which he called “disappointing”.

Mente also warned that the taxi operators were not afraid of Zille’s threat to call in the army in the event of a strike. “But we don’t want things to go that way,” he said.

He branded Zille a dictator, saying a mediator should be sought to resolve the stand-off between the city and taxi operators over the contentious integrated Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system.

The face-off between the City and taxi owners affiliated to the NTA began after talks broke down on Sunday. At the heart of the matter is the City’s plan to implement its long-researched BRT, which promises to finally give Cape Town a proper public transport system. But this has put Zille at loggerheads with some taxi associations, prompting the talk of a new strike.

Zille is due to meet Premier Lynne Brown today to gain the provincial government’s support for implementing the BRT system. Zille said she would also discuss with Brown the establishment of a “crack taxi task force to deal with any lawless elements”. “We’ll call in the army if we have to,” she warned.
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Zille said it was the city’s explicit wish for the taxi industry to wholly become part of the BRT, and that the system held “massive benefits” for the taxi industry – especially its drivers. This would include drivers being offered proper employment benefits for the first time, including proper salaries, pensions and sick leave.

She alleged taxi owners did not want drivers to hear this as they feared they would lose their power over their transport fiefdoms.

“The City of Cape Town is constitutionally bound to get municipal transport going. It’s a mess, and in some cases non-existent,” Zille said.

Among the features of the BRT are dedicated lanes for public transport, a smart ticketing system and the integrations of all forms of public transport – taxis, buses and trains – into one slick cohesive transport machine.

Zille said most of the 160 taxi associations were already starting to work with the City, but alleged that the NTA remained recalcitrant.

Mente said the NTA was prepared to engage with the BRT process, but that it wished to negotiate and not be dictated to. “Helen Zille kept on saying we have refused the presentation of the BRT three times. She is lying.”

Mente said the NTA also wanted other issues addressed, including alleged harassment by traffic authorities – but said the NTA supported the dedicated lanes.

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“I’ll Call Army on Taxis”

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