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Ekurhuleni rapid bus system not financially viable

The Ekurhuleni rapid bus system costs ratepayers many millions to transport minimal passengers, according to MP Mike Waters.

Michael Waters, MP and DA constituency head Kempvale, issued a statement last week claiming that the Harambee Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is bleeding the City of Ekurhuleni’s (CoE) finances dry, with each passenger costing ratepayers R330 per day.

The CoE has not yet responded to our request for comment on this matter.

“The City of Ekurhuleni has poured R290-million into the operational deficit of its BRT system over the last three years, placing heavy financial pressure on the City,” said Waters.

Department of Transport replies

Waters stated that in replying to a recent DA Parliamentary question about this issue, the Department of Transport (DoT) labelled the City a token white elephant.

“The department also said the City of Ekurhuleni has no excuse for the current mess that it finds itself in as the current scale of costs and ridership is unbalanced and unviable, and has given it an ultimatum to turn things around or face the consequences.

“Since its inception in 2016, the BRT has been plagued with slow, delayed construction and an incompetent City that has missed one deadline after the other.

“The continued failure by appointed contractors to maintain deadlines and their own internal issues has cost residents dearly,” he said.

Waters pointed out that CoE had to expand the service to 80 buses carrying 20 000 passengers a day in 2018, but after failing to meet this deadline the City was given an ultimatum to scale up to a proper operation of at least 40 buses in 2019 or risk the department invoking Division of Revenue Act powers to withhold transfers.

But CoE failed once more to meet this deadline.

Frustrated

Waters said it is clear from the department’s replies that it is highly frustrated with the City’s incompetence.

“Despite two years of appeals, the City has proved to be incapable of correcting this, resulting in a final warning being communicated to its project team in March 2019 to rebalance costs and revenues and move to viability within six months,” said Waters.

Waters further stated that only 18 Harambee buses are currently operating, transporting 800 passengers on average each weekday.

“This results in scarce financial resources being utilised to keep the vanity project afloat, while infrastructure crumbles and residents are forced to live with rolling power and water outages and having to drive on pothole riddled roads.”

Read: Ekurhuleni waste crisis becomes unsustainable

Disruptions

According to Waters, the BRT service is also subjected to continuous disruptions due to affected taxi and other public transport operators being in dispute with the City due to non-payment of “loss of income compensation” payments for revenue forfeited by the industry due to the buses running.

Waters said the parliamentary replies to the DA have also revealed that:

• The launch of the BRT system in 2017 with just eight buses was premature, and was viewed by the DoT to be on such a suboptimal scale that it could not be seen as a pilot phase.

• The amount spent on the BRT system is R1 687 509 216.

• The cost for each kilometre of construction of the BRT system amounts to R73.9-m.

• The original date that the BRT system had to be fully operational was June 2016.

• Cash flow challenges and the slow pace of construction by some of the infrastructure contractors not only caused delays but resulted in contractors being terminated.

Waters calls on Ekurhuleni Mayor Mzwandile Masina to reassure residents that this “poorly planned” project will not become a considerable fiscal risk for the City.

Not aware of DoT’s final warning

Although the metro has not yet commented on Waters’ latest claims, in our previous report, the previous metro spokesperson, Themba Gadebe, said the metro is not aware of a final warning issued by DoT, and added that action plans were in place and being implemented to ensure achievement of set milestones as submitted and presented to DoT.

He also pointed out that the City introduced the starter service as a pilot phase with the intention of expanding the services with additional buses.

“The expansion of the service was planned for 40 buses and subsequently 80 buses in 2019. The City remains committed to its plan to operate at least 40 buses during the 2019 calendar year.

“Phase One (Thembisa to Vosloorus), when fully operational, is anticipated to carry more than a 100 000 weekday passenger trips. The figure is based on the travel demand model and the household travel surveys conducted,” said Gadebe.

Read: City of Ekurhuleni warns public about job scam

High costs

Gadebe said the metro has acknowledged the high costs of the level of infrastructure and thus has taken a stance to operate and build only the required infrastructure.

“As such, a scaled-down approach has been adopted by the City; the next stage of Phase One is being planned with reduced infrastructure. This will therefore enable earlier implementation of future phases. The City hereby confirms DoT’s estimates as accurate.

“The Harambee system is already operational and gaining traction, with commitments in place such as the procurement of buses, and, therefore, a zero-based budget approach will be detrimental to the project at this stage,” he said.

The metro also previously admitted that the project had suffered delays due to intimidation and vandalism in 2019.

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or Stacy Slatter (news editor) stacys@caxton.co.za

 or Miné Fourie (journalist) minev@caxton.co.za

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