The stakeholder-led project

City of Cape Town Integrated Rapid Transport (IRT)

As part of the build up to the 2010 FIFA world cup the City of Cape Town embarked on the development of an ambitious new IRT system which would provide bus transport into and across the city.  In phase one the aim was to provide transport links from the airport (addressing the needs of the increased number of international and national passengers) and from selected northern and central areas where roads were increasingly overloaded (addressing citizen’s needs for improved town transport).  The IRT project was a critical infrastructure project and 2010 FIFA gave the city the energy, and publicly recognised urgency needed to get it happening.

The City of Cape Town like most of the major cities in SA already had a variety of private taxi and bus services.  Anyone who has visited Cape Town will be familiar with the sound and slightly alarming driving of the private taxi cabs which compete to cram passengers into mini-buses while careering through the city streets.  They provide a cheap and frequent service but there are drawbacks in terms of price, comfort and safety.  The private taxis services are numerous and it is increasingly difficult and costly to control their number and conformance to the legal and safety standards set by the city.

The IRT was undoubtedly a complex technical challenge which would involve the redevelopment of some of the busiest streets to allow for dedicated bus lanes.  But this was not the biggest worry for the city.   MyCiTi buses, where they were implemented, would compete directly with existing taxi and bus services and this raised social and public order issues which could result in a very real threat to the success of the programme.

Private taxis are a source of income to large groups of local citizens.  A private taxi typically provides a living for at least three families; the driver; the taxi owner and the franchiser who owns the licence to operate in a particular area.  Each of these families would be impacted by a change in the competitive environment.  Given eight taxi associations, 950 taxis plus two bus companies with two hundred buses on the routes  – that would be a lot of families.

The taxi associations are managed by powerful community members who are not averse to aggressive, and sometimes violent, defence of their business interests.   These groups continuously fight the battle against their perception of government over-regulation and there was, at the time, little grounds for a trusted relationship between the groups.

It was clear to the City of Cape Town team that if they were to  be successful in the IRT implementation then the local business integration into the new service would be crucial and that would mean formalising an informal industry which had resisted regularisation for many years.

To address this, a separate project stream was set-up, specifically targeted at the engagement of the taxi and bus service stakeholders.  Its outcome was to find a solution to the problem – how to do we make this service not only acceptable but positively supported by the impacted business communities. The project was led by the head of City of Cape Town industry transition and reported to the IRT programme providing advice and input into the implementation plans.

In talking with the manager of this stream, one message comes through clearly.  If you don’t understand your stakeholder business or understand your stakeholder agendas then how can you possibly find a successful approach to engagement?   Getting to know the players and creating the appropriate relationships, public and personal, was a major component of this project streams activities.

At times, the team were able to surprise the stakeholders by just how much they knew about the stakeholders’ business.  They gathered information on the profit and cost drivers for the business.  What made these businesses profitable and what could make a real difference to their bottom line?  They hunted down the evidence and made sure it was from sources that even their most vehement of opponents would not question.  This meant that sometimes the team was able to anticipate objections and be ready in advance with solutions and alternatives.

For example, in the existing model (pre the introduction of the new IRT) the income earned by the taxis groups was directly related to the number of passengers.  The project team investigated how passenger numbers were impacted by the rising number of taxis and how this was likely to change with the introduction of the IRT.  The data they compiled and the performance indicators they derived were better than anything else the taxi companies could access!  They were surprised by how well the City Council project team understood their business.

This understanding prompted one of the proposals that fundamentally changed the way the taxis would operate.  With the introduction of the IRT, the numbers of passengers available to the taxi operating companies would inevitably go down.  In a radical move, the project proposed a new income scheme based upon the number of kilometres travelled by the taxi rather than the number of passengers.  The City Council agreed to financially back the scheme.

To achieve this within budget constraints meant reducing the number of taxis on the road and that meant laying off taxi drivers.  Another scheme was set-up to provide pension packages for those taxi drivers of-or-near pensionable age, thus reducing the numbers of drivers and taxis.

These two schemes, well researched and thought through from both the Taxi Associations and the City Council positions, addressed two major concerns; reducing incomes caused by too many groups competing for too few passengers; and the threat of loss of passengers to the IRT system.

Learning from success

This project is just one stream within a government programme which is critically reliant on support and commitment from a large group of powerful stakeholders in the community.  The business integration stream was run as its own project with a project manager and team.   It was a massive undertaking in its own right, specifically focused on ensuring that the overall programme would be sustainable in the aggressive transport market-place which exists on the streets of the city.  The project was a success – other cities in South Africa have struggled because of repeated renegade activity and undermining of IRT (Integrated Rapid Transport) efforts by transport communities.  Why was the City of Cape Town phase 1 implementation a success?  There seem to be a number of factors:

  • Stakeholder engagement was a genuine consultation process based upon the kind of principles discussed more fully in the final chapter of this book. “If you consult then you should use the input provided” and “Impacted stakeholders have a right to have a say in changes that will impact by them”.  This was believed whole-heartedly by the team.
  • Input from stakeholder was always acknowledged and how this input benefitted the project was shared.
  • Consultation was based not on knowing what the solution was, but on facilitating stakeholders to identify the solution that could work for them.
  • The manager and other members of the team had extensive local knowledge which enabled them understand and empathise with the issues raised by the stakeholders.
  • Deep analysis of the taxi business and agendas of the groups allowed the team to suggest options for stakeholder to consider. These were expressed in the language of the taxi groups and were clearly aligned with their agendas.
  • Thinking-out-of-the-box. The team came up with ideas that would not normally be considered by a city council; ideas which were often nothing like the things we ‘normally do around here’.
  • Detailed analysis of impacts. It was not enough to propose new ideas; the team had also to consider how any proposed change would impact upon the new Vehicle Operating Companies formed by the taxi associations as well as the financial position of the City of Cape Town.  These impacts were analysed, tested and validated with internal stakeholders (the Council Authorities) before being presented as possible solutions
  • A fundamental understanding, well-communicated to all, of the risks associated with not getting buy-in from these stakeholder groups and a willingness by the city council to invest in solutions which addressed these risks.

My thanks to Reggie Springleer for taking part in the Success Stories Shared initiative.

Success Stories Shared is a SA initiative to encourage sharing across the project community. Driven by Louise Worsley & Linky van der Merwe, you can find these stories online at:

If you have a story to share, please do contact us:

Louise Worsley:


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