Durban - The Durban city council, which has spent R3billion with nothing to show for it, is optimistic that it will start rolling out a new bus service in September and has gone so far as to acquire 50 new buses at a cost of R325 million.
But eThekwini Municipality’s ambitious Go!Durban bus project still leaks money with no transport solution in sight.
A municipal spokesperson told the Sunday Tribune this week that the city’s fancy new rapid transport system, Go!Durban, would go live in September. But regional taxi associations say it won’t, until the city has resolved differences with the taxi association.
The multibillion-rand rapid transport project has been hampered by delays and interruptions as a result of ongoing disputes between the city and the local taxi association, costing ratepayers through wasteful city expenditure.
Go!Durban was announced in 2013, an initiative to bring relief to about 600 000 local commuters once completed.
The integrated bus transport system is aimed at linking areas north, west and south of Durban to the city.
This week, Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu revealed that close to R3bn had been spent on the Go!Durban project. Makwetu’s 2017/2018 municipal audit report said the municipality was paying even when work was not done and the project was delayed.
Shortly after the audit report, the municipality announced that the Go!Durban first phase, a bus route between Pinetown and KwaMashu, would go live in two months time.
Thami Manyathi, head of eThekwini Transport Authority said the 10 stations were ready, 22 standard buses were available and 38 drivers employed to start ferrying residents from Bridge City in KwaMashu to Pinetown.
Manyathi said the purchase of 50 midibuses was under way and the first tranche would be delivered by next year.
Taxi owners said the city’s announcement was premature, given their unsettled dispute.
Mathula Mkhize, chairperson of the SA National Taxi Council for Durban West, said they were unhappy about how the city was handling their issues.
“The city has not fully explained how it will compensate taxi owners whose businesses have suffered as a result of the project. We are confused that while we still have unresolved issues the city made this announcement that the project will be completed in two months time,” he said.
Mkhize said they would not allow the project to go live until all the disputes were settled.
“It has been postponed many times, we may see the same.”
Municipality spokesperson Mandla Nsele confirmed the compensation process had not been finalised and no taxi operator has been paid.
He said the compensation process was linked to a business valuation process of the economic right of operators which was linked to the operating licence.
“The process to determine and eventually pay compensation to affected operators that are eligible has been communicated to the affected taxi associations,” Nsele said.
The City is in the process of finalising the tender to operate Go!Durban, Nsele said. “The city, with the affected operators, is currently going through a process of negotiations, with fleet ownership being one of them. At this point, fleet ownership for longer term contracts has not been finalised with the industry, it is an ongoing engagement.”
A report tabled at the municipality’s executive committee meeting this week, showed the City is owed more than R300 million by Transnat, which operates the city buses.
In a bid to recover the debt, a liquidation application was made. But this was challenged by Transnat and an adjudication hearing is taking place in terms of the court process, the executive committee report said.
Nicole Graham, DA caucus leader, said the state of Durban transport was poor and the new Go!Durban operator should ensure the new system was not a failure.
“It would be great to see the project finally get off the ground considering the amount that has been spent. The management of the entire project is a concern. We need proper change.”
IFP leader Mdu Nkosi said it was worrying that the City had not appointed the operator of the Go!Durban as the project was planned for launch in September.
“We are concerned the process may give Transnat another chance despite its poor history. We would not be surprised if the date gets postponed again because there are a lot of issues around the project,” Nkosi said.