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Santaco calls on Western Cape government not to stop Blue Dot project amid lack of funding

Santaco calls on Western Cape government not to stop Blue Dot project amid lack of funding

Cape Town – The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) in the Western Cape is calling on the local government to reconsider its plans to terminate the Blue Dot Taxi programme.

It said on Monday, October 31, Santaco was informed that the project would cease to operate on November 30 because of a lack of funding.

Santaco chairperson Mandla Hermanus said it was a sad day for the taxi industry in the Western Cape and for millions of passengers in the province who relied on its services to get to work and school, among other things.

“The minibus taxi industry is currently the backbone of public transport in the Western Cape, used by the vast majority of public transport commuters. We transport over 2 million people every day and every effort should be made to support our industry to become better, safer and to formalise our industry and improve the quality of service we provide,” Hermanus said.

Santaco calls on Western Cape government not to stop Blue Dot project amid lack of funding
Santaco Western Cape chairman, Mandla Hermanus. File Photo: Ayanda Ndamane / African News Agency (ANA)

“In late 2020, the Western Cape Government bravely initiated the Blue Dot pilot, the first initiative of its kind in South Africa. No other government department, province, or city has developed anything close to Blue Dot. Nowhere else has the spirit and letter of the National Taxi Lekgotla 2020 Declaration been more fully realised,” he added.

The declaration proposed an empowerment model “underpinned by the principle that economic benefits must cascade to all operators in the industry… (and) be anchored on formalisation which includes establishment of business entities, subsidisation of the industry and partnerships with government”. The declaration concluded with a clarion call “to forge a compact aimed at transforming the industry into a formalised and professionalised economic sector that delivers world-class services to a majority of commuters within the republic”.

The Western Cape cabinet endorsed the pilot project in September 2020 and it went live on May 15, 2021, with the participation of approximately 800 minibus taxis distributed across the province.

Blue Dot has since seen eight regional companies established, representing all eight regions of the province.

Santaco calls on Western Cape government not to stop Blue Dot project amid lack of funding
Western Cape Transport MEC Daylin Mitchell. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

“We worked tirelessly with the government to ensure that our services got better and safer day by day. As a result, speed was reduced by 50% and harsh driving by 40% amongst participants; and passengers rated the service positively via the innovative user feedback system, which is at the heart of Blue Dot,” Hermanus said.

He said a recent passenger survey found that:

• 82% reported feeling safer travelling with a Blue Dot taxi.

• 78% agreed Blue Dot taxis were better.

• 88% agreed the province needs more Blue Dot taxis.

“The commuters have spoken and this is overwhelming evidence that Blue Dot has achieved its core objective of creating a safer, better public transport for minibus taxis.

“This project has given our operators, drivers, and customers newfound hope that government is finally willing to come to the party to support the industry and its customers.

“Over the decades, many have spoken about subsidising the minibus taxi industry but, for the first time, Blue Dot has shown the country how it can be done, in a way that results in real improvements in safety and service quality for passengers.

“We recognise the MEC for mobility, Daylin Mitchell, and the previous MEC, Bonginkosi Madikizela, and the impact of their role as real advocates, not just for the project but for the taxi industry itself.

“We value their commitment to ensuring that Blue Dot gained the traction it needed to succeed and their public endorsement for the transformative efforts the industry has partnered with the government on,” Hermanus said.

He said while there were some bumps in the road, they were proud of the progress achieved.

He said in an industry known for reckless driving, lawlessness and violent conflict, Blue Dot was a rare success story.

Hermanus said the Blue Dot project was the foundation for further improvements and developments in the minibus taxi industry.

“A story of collaboration and partnership with government, working hand-in-hand to implement this innovative project and ensure its success.

“Blue Dot was also just the beginning, with great potential, not just because of what has already been achieved, but because of what more could be achieved in the future. We had hoped to build on the initial success of Blue Dot to introduce further improvement to our services, including electronic ticketing, integration with other modes of public transport, on-board wi-fi, e-hailing for taxis, a scheduled services, and even climate-friendly vehicles in support of a green economy in the Western Cape.

“We had also hoped to build the newly established companies into flourishing, sustainable and empowered black-owned enterprises, generating revenues and pursuing new business opportunities to fundamentally reshape the way in which the minibus taxi industry does business.

“We had hoped that these changes would help to finally bring an end to the scourge of violence and illegality that has plagued our industry for too long.

“Despite these efforts, the decision to bring Blue Dot to an end has fractured the partnership we have built with the government. The reality for our industry, yet again, is that our role as a vital contributor to the public transport sector is not as firmly recognised as it should be.

“This decision unfortunately will result in the minibus Industry and government being placed in opposite camps again,” Hermanus said.

Mitchell praised the success of the Blue Dot project. He said, however, that it needed the backing of the national government.

“We have shown that the Blue Dot pilot project works, and works well. However, we need the support of national government to fund the continuation and expansion of this powerful pilot programme.

“Funding this programme is the mandate of the national department. Where rail has almost collapsed in South Africa this programme shows how we can make a rapid intervention to improve the public transport industry – this pilot project shows how you can change the game.

“The Blue Dot Taxi pilot project will officially terminate on 30 November 2022, and I will be engaging national government to support us in rolling this programme out beyond the province’s pilot.

“The continuation of Blue Dot remains my top ministerial priority. I call on the national government, business and other stakeholders to join us as we seek to strengthen, grow and empower the minibus taxi industry so as to provide safer public transport,” Mitchell said.

He said in the coming weeks he would be engaging with the local, provincial and national governments to see how the Blue Dot project could become a national initiative.

“We have invested R215 million to prove that this pilot works and it is now up to the national government to support us and put resources in the minibus taxi industry.

“The project responded to the urgent need to improve public transport in the Western Cape by improving the quality of service provided by the minibus taxi industry in a context of the near-total collapse of the rail system, increasing congestion, and other challenges.

“Since these companies were established months ago, the Western Cape government worked closely with them to build these businesses and they comply with corporate governance best practice.

“This has taken significant effort and dedication, but the results have been positive,” Mitchell said.

However, Hermanus said the minibus taxi industry felt the withdrawal of support by the provincial government was a betrayal for millions of commuters who relied on its services.

“What was the purpose of the pilot if not to test the concept of Blue Dot and see whether this initiative could work? And in this regard Blue Dot has been a resounding success – there has not been any other initiative with the minibus taxi industry that comes anywhere close to the transformation of the sector that Blue Dot has achieved.

“This conclusion is firmly rooted in facts – we have the evidence from millions of data-points to show that the quality and safety of driving and of our vehicles has improved dramatically under Blue Dot, and we have the ultimate evidence in overwhelming support for the improvements achieved by Blue Dot from the most important people – the commuters. So if a pilot proves this successful, how can it be stopped?” Hermanus asked.

“Government is funding other modes of public transport to the tune of billions of rands per year. Government is still funding rail in the Western Cape to the tune of hundreds of millions of rands, although the trains transport very few people these days. Government is funding Golden Arrow Bus Service (GABS) with over R1 billion each year, even though we transport ten times as many people as GABS.

“The government is funding MyCiTi to the tune of hundreds of millions of rand each year, and continues to invest billions each year in the expansion of MyCiTi. The government cannot say that there is no money and government cannot say that Blue Dot is unaffordable.

“There are people in government that believe that the minibus taxi industry is made up entirely of gangsters and criminals.

“The industry has its challenges, but the vast majority of our members are hard-working people that are trying to make an honest living in very difficult circumstances, and that provide the most vital service to the vast majority of commuters, and notably to the poor,” Hermanus said.

He said there is no future in public transport in the country without the minibus taxi industry.

Hermanus urged government to stick to the promises made at the National Taxi Lekgotla.

He said while violence in the taxi industry continued to be a scourge that needed to be overcome, Hermanus said the Blue Dot created a mechanism to start dealing with the violence – a first initiative from the government which had real impact.

“The pilot has shown that Blue Dot works, and it is not true to suggest that Blue Dot is unaffordable. Compared to the money government is spending in other areas, Blue Dot is by far the best value for money that government and the citizens of the Western Cape can get.

“Therefore, we call on the Western Cape government to reconsider their decision, stand by the commitments made at the Taxi Lekgotla and continue Blue Dot for the benefit of the poor and the working people of the Western Cape.

“To this end, we confirm that we will continue our efforts to apply pressure to ensure that the needs and interests of our members are met,” Hermanus said.

robin.francke@inl.co.za

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