MEC threatens to shut down taxi ranks as George violence escalates
Western Cape transport MEC Donald Grant "declared his intention" to close taxi ranks in George following an escalation in "taxi-on-bus" violence.
He said the past three days had seen violence and "criminal acts, including the torching of two George municipal traffic patrol cars and the petrol bombing of the private vehicle of a Go George Bus Service employee".
"I ... have published a notice in the Government Gazette, making known my intention to implement extraordinary measures to protect commuters and secure infrastructure," he said in a statement on Friday.
Along with shutting down taxi ranks in the CBD, he also intended to close taxi ranks in the nearby suburb of Thembalethu "for a set period".
According to Grant, the violence comes after the government's attempts to negotiate since 2006 for taxi operators to relinquish their operating rights for the town to implement its subsidised bus service, Go George.
The bus service - similar to other integrated transport services like Rea Vaya and Areyeng in Gauteng, and MyCiti in Cape Town - is South Africa's first "non-metro integrated public transport system" and has been adopted as the pilot for future similar projects in other towns.
"Following extensive consultation with public transport operators, other affected stakeholders and the George community, the necessary infrastructure was developed and a Vehicle Operating Company (George Link Pty Ltd) was established, comprising legal taxi operators at the time, to enter into a negotiated contract with government to provide scheduled public transport services within the George municipal boundaries," said Grant.
"As part of the implementation... minibus-taxi operators agreed to relinquish all minibus-taxi type operating licences authorising services within the George municipal boundaries," said Grant.
The chief negotiator for the minibus-taxi industry, Tim Queba, was murdered in May 2014 during "protracted and difficult" negotiations.
The project started rolling out in December 2014 but before phase 4 of the project was due to start in September the following year, the violent strikes ensued - allegedly orchestrated by taxi associations opposed to the municipality's plans.
"Certain factions within the taxi industry expressed unhappiness with the negotiation process, claiming that no data collection and analysis was part of the design of the system, no investigations conducted to establish training needs and empowerment programmes, and that proper consultation had not taken place with all affected stakeholders," said Grant.
"...The taxi industry threatened to embark on non-stop strike action until the George Municipality re-opens the negotiation process. It was stated that the intention of the strike was to make George ungovernable," he said.
"On August 19 2015, five Go George buses were set alight, roads were blockaded and CCTV cameras and police vehicles damaged by taxi drivers and operators," said Grant.
Grant said that after the violence, most taxi operators relinquished their operating licences for cancellation or amendment and have been compensated by the George Municipality.
This is with the exception of members of the Uncedo George Taxi Association, who he claims have not complied with the agreements they signed with government.
In April a George Link employee's car was petrol bombed, and over the past week, taxis have blocked routes and intimidated staff and commuters.
"Routes served by the Go George bus service have been flooded with illegal operators, by mainly Uncedo-affiliated associations. This resulted in touting for- and intimidation of passengers by illegal operators and ultimately destructive competition with the subsidised Go George bus service. Operators supporting the roll-out of the Go George bus service have been intimidated and several complaints have been received by the department, the George Municipality and the SAPS," said Grant.
"The current situation and threats are compromising peace and stability within the public transport industry and could result in further incidents of violence that in turn could result in the loss of lives. This should be avoided at all cost. Although not all the routes from the George CBD taxi facility are affected by the violence, it is considered prudent to close the entire rank to avoid further tension between operators and taxi-on-bus violence," said Grant.
"No minibus-taxi operations will be allowed in these areas. I, however, reserve the right to only close certain of the routes in the area or certain of the loading lanes at the ranks, depending on the progress made by departmental officials, advice received from other stakeholders and government departments, and the situation on the ground," he said.