Premier Alan Winde together with Transport and Public Works Minister, Bonginkosi Madikizela, officially launched the ground-breaking Blue Dot pilot project at the Gene Louw Traffic College in Brackenfell today.
This nine-month pilot will see the participation of approximately 1 300 minibus taxis, distributed across the regions of the Western Cape, in a new incentive programme that will reward improved driving behaviour and higher service quality, while encouraging reduced instances of illegal operations and conflict.
The project responds to the urgent need to improve public transport in the Western Cape, considering the major challenges experienced by the passenger rail system, increasing congestion, and other challenges.
The Western Cape Cabinet endorsed the project last September and, after an intensive few months, including numerous engagements with representatives of provincial and regional taxi structures, implementation is now planned to commence next month.
As the largest provider of public transport services in the province, minibus taxis deliver an essential service that is vital to the functioning of the economy. However, these services also experience several challenges including safety and quality issues, illegal operations, and violent conflict.
These problems are aggravated by the industry’s current economic fundamentals which incentivise fare-chasing, destructive competition, recruitment of illegal operators, and route contestation. This is further exacerbated by a lack of government support and investment in the industry, which receives only about 1% of public transport funding nationally.
The recent National and Provincial Minibus Taxi Lekgotlas which took place in October 2020 included a call for greater support and formalisation of the industry.
In response to the call, the Blue Dot Taxi pilot project aims to:
o Improve the quality and safety of the service provided to the passenger;
o Achieve empowerment in, and transformation of, the industry; and
o Address two of its more challenging issues, namely illegal operations and violent conflict.
Eight new companies have been established by the Western Cape’s regional taxi councils to participate in the pilot along with Umanyano Travel Services (UTS), the company established by the South African National Taxi Council’s (SANTACO) provincial branch to participate in the earlier Red Dot Taxi initiative.
These developments represent a giant leap forward for the empowerment and transformation of the minibus taxi industry and are a first for South Africa.
The project was made possible by the incredible success of Red Dot Taxi, an ongoing partnership between the Western Cape Government and the provincial minibus taxi industry to deliver transport services in support of the fight against COVID-19.
Similar to the Red Dot Taxi service, participating Blue Dot Taxis will each have distinctive Blue Dot branding so that they can be easily identified by passengers and the public.
Participating vehicles will be fitted with a tracker, monitored by government, and rewarded for good performance, including good customer service and improved driver behaviour.
Passengers will be able to provide feedback on the service by cellphone, which will influence taxi ratings and rewards as well as raising standards.
Premier Alan Winde said: “Our response throughout Covid-19 has been innovative, agile and responsive and the Red Dot Service has been a shining example of that. The Blue Dot service shows this government’s commitment to continuing to deliver services in a way that is innovative, and in a way that contributes to the key pillars of our recovery-jobs, safety and dignity and well-being. This will not only provide safer, more dignified transport, but will also allow people to travel to work and to access economic opportunities, while supporting jobs in the taxi industry.”
Transport and Public Works Minister, Bonginkosi Madikizela said: “The minibus taxi industry is vital to our economy, providing transport to hundreds of thousands of our citizens every day. In fact, minibus taxis move more people in the Western Cape than any other form of public transport.”
Minister Madikizela said the industry has operated without significant investment and support from government for far too long, adding that he was confident that things were about to change significantly.
“We are striving to fundamentally shift the industry’s existing economic drivers which incentivise fare-chasing, competition, recruitment of illegal operators, and route contestation. Today, we have gathered to celebrate a great milestone for public transport and the minibus taxi industry. Our engagements with the industry’s provincial and regional structures have been extremely positive, and the enthusiasm expressed for the project has been heartening to witness in these challenging times,” said Minister Madikizela.
He added: "After this event, my Department will commence the process of signing up participating operators, training operators and drivers, and fitting out vehicles with trackers and the Blue Dot branding in preparation for the go-live launch."
Minister Madikizela concluded: “I would like to thank the leaders of the minibus taxi industry for their unwavering commitment to getting the pilot up and running in such a short time. It is my great hope that we can continue to work together to make this project a success and deliver “Better Journeys. Better Lives” for the citizens of the Western Cape. Blue Dot Taxi has the potential to be a game-changer for public transport in the Western Cape, resulting in real and lasting improvement for both the passengers and the industry.”