The Department of Transport expects the first 18- and 35-seater taxis, which form part of government's controversial R20 billion taxi recapitalisation programme, to hit South African roads in May.

The Department of Transport expects the first 18- and 35-seater taxis, which form part of government's controversial R20 billion taxi recapitalisation programme, to hit South African roads in May.

CARtoday.com reported earlier this month that the first group of taxi drivers and owners had completed the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport’s skills development training with the aim of making taxi transport safer and prevent accidents. The three-month pilot project involved 150 taxi drivers and 150 taxi owners in Nquthu in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. The KZN Transport Department invested R1,2 million rand in this project and it should be extended to other regions of KwaZulu-Natal and provinces.

But when will the taxi owners start taking delivery of their new, government-approved buses?

On Wednesday, the Department's deputy director-general, Jerry Makokoane, and Sipho Zikhonde, a chief director in the trade and industry department, briefed the select Parliamentary committee on public services about the latest developments, and the government's dispute with the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco).

The first new vehicles were supposed to have rolled out this month after repeated delays since the scheme was first mooted in 1999 and the committee summoned the departments after recent media reports about yet another delay. According to reports, Santaco had sent "a very emotional letter" about its grievances to President Thabo Mbeki. These grievances had recently nearly resulted in a nationwide taxi strike.

Makokoane said the latest delay had been caused by the need to renegotiate the scheme with the newly formed Santaco, confirm financing, finalise technical details and ensure that it was firmly part of a revamp programme for the whole public transport sector.

A new "activity list" had been compiled, and a key feature had been that "it will not be possible for us to have the first vehicles on the ground in June ". As the purpose-built 18- and 35-seater vehicles would be new to the market, they first had to be tested for endurance, quality and safety, Makokoane added.

He admitted there had been "different views" among representatives of different departments on several key issues, including whether the country could afford the programme. In the process, the target of replacing 127 000 vehicles had been reduced to 97 000, which would each cost more than originally estimated.

The best and final offer documents for the new vehicles had been issued to the six bidders and it now appeared that they would be available only in May next year.

Makokoane said several meetings had been held with Santaco over the past few weeks and there was now broad agreement. But Santaco's bid to effectively take over the recapitalisation programme had been rejected as government involvement provided greater certainty to manufacturers, banks and insurers, reported on Thursday.

Original article from Car