Tito sinks city transport plan

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni (Jeffrey Abrahams, Gallo)
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni (Jeffrey Abrahams, Gallo)

SHUT IT down.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni on Wednesday pulled the plug on funding for Msunduzi’s integrated public transport network (IRPTN).

Sources say the municipality’s incompetence has resulted in the City losing the money needed to complete its planned transport system.

This was announced in the budget speech in Parliament on Wednesday. Mbo­weni said finance for the project was being suspended as part of a R13,2 billion adjustment in public transport spending.

The decision also affects proposed IRPTN services in the Buffalo City and Mbombela municipalities.

Here the project has been mired by delays, some stemming from poorly performing contractors and challenges with land expropriation and relocation of residents.

An estimated R500 million has already been spent on the IRPTN since its inception in 2012.

A source close to the project — which is intended to integrate rail, bus, minibus taxi, metered taxi and non-motorised transport in Pietermaritzburg — said the council was reaping the consequences of its incompetence.

Delays and inefficient planning and implementation meant that the IRPTN had turned into a “cash cow for tenderpreneurs and politicians”, the source added.

“That’s why it wasn’t going as it should have been. Just look at the budget for the 2017/2018 financial year. More than R200 million was provided by the Department of Transport and some of the money had to be sent back because it wasn’t spent.

“Poor performing contractors were not punished because of political connections,” the source claimed.

Melanie Veness, chief executive officer of the Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business (PMCB), said the decision to suspend the IRPTN was extremely disappointing.

“It’s frustrating for us because it would have been a positive move for the local economy,” she added.

“The minister needed to find cuts in the budget and if we [as a city] had shown more passion for the project ... if we had spent money when it was available ... it may have gone ahead.”

Veness said the PMCB had been waiting for months to hear what was happening with the project, but had been left in the dark by City officials.

“Pietermaritzburg is the capital city, and a capital city should not look like this,” she added.

“We are being treated like a poor cousin. This programme would have created a vibrant, clean, 21st century city.”

As part of the integrated public transport network, roads in Edendale and West Street in town are being widened.

Meanwhile, at a full council meeting on Wednesday councillors received a report saying that Msunduzi is in the process of building 23 houses for families who had to be relocated from ward 19 because their homes were encroaching on the reserve of Selby Msimango Road.

The affected homeowners had to be moved in February 2017 because their properties affected the widening of the road as part of the IRPTN.

The project of building them new homes is considered an “emergency development” as it has delayed the IRPTN, and is fully funded by the Department of Transport.

The City is currently renting accommodation for the 23 families at Acacia Park at a cost of more than R68 000 a month.

Council approved the extension of their rental accommodation pending the process of building the new homes.

It is not clear when their houses will be completed as a protest broke out in Peace Valley 2 last year when the City attempted to use one of the sites that was initially earmarked for a different RDP housing project whose beneficiaries were still living in an informal settlement.

According to the report a new site has been identified but investigations are still under way on whether it is suitable for residential development.

In addition to widening the roads, the IRPTN project included the building of two main terminal stations, one at Edendale and the other at Raise­thorpe, nine bus and truck stations, nine depot sites, feeder and precinct turnaround facilities, and supporting roads and other infrastructure.

The trunk corridor of about 14,4 km was envisaged to extend from Georgetown in the south, via the CBD to Raisethorpe in the north.

The fleet servicing the network would comprise articulated buses, rigid buses, midi-buses and minibuses.

Refuelling, wash bays and repair facilities were proposed for the depot sites and there were plans in place to construct facilities for bulk water transport and storage, bridges, the expansion of canals, weirs and bridges, the provision of telecommunication masts, and the clearance of vegetation along the routes.

Among those caught off guard by Mboweni’s announcement was Santaco (South African National Taxi Council), whose members are in the middle of a three-day annual general meeting in Durban.

Bheki Sokhela, regional leader of Santaco, which has been closely involved in the IRPTN scheme, said they would be meeting with Msunduzi Muncipality on Saturday to discuss the implications of Mboweni’s announcement.

Msunduzi Municipality Mayor Mzi Thebolla, meanwhile, said the council was disappointed by the news but wanted to study the details of the decision before making a formal comment.

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