West Coast commuters could wait up to two months longer for the launch of the first phase of the City of Cape Town’s Integrated Rapid Transit (IRT) system, as negotiations with role-players have still not been concluded.

This is the latest in a string of delays to hit commuters keen to escape congestion on the city’s roads, by trading their cars for public transport.

As recently as last month, the city was confident that the Table View route would be open by the end of March, but - as with the inner-city service, which was planned for launch before the festive season - expectations have had to be tempered.

The only IRT route in operation is the one between Cape Town International Airport and the CBD.

Mike Marsden, the city’s executive director of transport, roads and major projects, said that to expedite the launch of the Table View service, the council would, at its next meeting, be asked to approve a deviation from the approved business plan, to allow the appointment of three vehicle operating companies instead of two.

This morning, mayoral committee member for transport Elizabeth Thompson dismissed any suggestion that the project had lost momentum.

“We have put in a lot of money, billions of rands, and if the national Treasury did not have confidence, there was no way they were going to continue giving money for the IRT.”

Thompson said the national Department of Transport and the Treasury were kept in the loop at all times.

“There is no way anyone of us can get cold feet, we have come very far with the IRT,” she said.

“It is a very challenging project, and no city has ever done a project on this scale before. So when there are challenges, it does not mean we are stopping and pulling out.”

Thompson said that while many people puzzled over the completed infrastructure and the buses standing idle on the Foreshore, it had to be kept in mind that the buses had to be ready for the World Cup.

She said politicians met weekly to discuss progress, and that additional “urgent meetings” had been called.

But even though officials had been in discussions with minibus and bus operators for more than two years, it had to be ensured that nobody was “worse off than now”.

“Officials are working non-stop, people are putting in extra hours sitting with the industry and looking at the best solutions for everyone,” said Thompson.

Marsden told the Cape Argus that discussions with taxi associations and bus operators were under way, “and progress has been made”, but that one of the difficulties had been “the manner in which the city originally intended to set up the VO (vehicle operating) companies in terms of the constituent membership”.

According to the city’s IRT business plan, eight taxi associations and two bus companies are involved in negotiations, and the value of their contracts would be determined, among other things, on their relative share of the existing market.

Existing operators can choose to become part of the MyCiTi service, or to be compensated for the business they will lose when the MyCiTi service starts.

When asked whether negotiations with existing operators had stalled, Marsden would only say that, after “significant engagement” on the issue, “it would appear that a variation on the city’s original business plan proposal could unlock this difficulty (with the number of operating companies)”.

“Instead of two companies (as earlier planned), a proposal has been suggested that three VO companies could be easier to agree (to) as part of the interim starter service.”

Marsden said a report would go to the council later this month. It would propose, for approval, that the number of companies to contract be increased.

“Getting the interim starter service in place between the CBD and Table View early in 2011 remains the intent of the city,” said Marsden.

“However, there are risks in making this deadline, which will be fully explained in a report to be considered by (the) council (this month)”, subject to agreements being reached with the relevant companies.

“All the infrastructure, including bus ways, stations and depots, have been completed,” he said.

The proposed interim starter service - called Milestone 0 - includes feeder services around Table View, Blaauwberg and Parklands; interim feeder services in the CBD; a trunk service between the CBD and Table View; and the airport shuttle, which is already in operation.

With “goodwill from all parties”, the city believed the implementation of “Milestone 0” could happen by May, Marsden said.

Golden Arrow bus service refused to comment on detailed questions on the IRT, saying only: “Golden Arrow can confirm that we are in contact with the city regarding the implementation of Phase 1A of the Integrated Rapid Transport system.

Due to the sensitivity of the issues involved we will not be making any public pronouncements at this time.”

The affected taxi operators could not be reached for comment.

The city had hoped to introduce the MyCiTi service running between Bayside and the CBD by next month, but is still negotiating with existing operators.

It is now hoped that negotiations will be concluded and agreements will be reached by April.

So far, one operating company, which will provide feeder services, has been formed, and has indicated that it is ready to enter into an agreement with the city. - Cape Argus

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