Tough times for shops

Business owners along Stock Road, in Philippi, say their profit margins have dwindled since the start of the ongoing road works. Delivery trucks are now refusing to go into the area.

Losses of as much as R5 million and a decline of about 45% in sales is what some of the businesses along Stock Road say they have experienced since the start of the roadworks in the area.

The construction, they claim, has also led to an increase in crime in the area and lawlessness among the small amaphela taxis who break the rules of the road to avoid the gridlock.

The road works, which started last year, form part of the City of Cape Town’s Integrated Rapid Transit (IRT) and non-motorised transport (NMT) initiative, running from Mitchell’s Plain to Govan Mbeki Drive (Lansdowne Road) in Philippi.

The 2km stretch from around Joe Gqabi interchange will have a dedicated bus lane and three bus stations once completed, with two carriageways on each side.

The project is expected to be completed in October next year. However, the work has brought misery to the business community who have accused the City of unilaterally starting the project and refusing to engage them on crucial issues.

Brendan Baxter, chaiperson of Woza Philippi – a joint initiative of local businesses – said things got worse when the roadworks began between Sheffield and Govan Mbeki roads.

He said it severely affected the flow of traffic and exposed unsuspecting motorists to smash-and-grabs.

He said businesses had also become soft targets as police battled to move into the area quickly enough. As a result, most delivery trucks were also refusing to go into the area, forcing shop owners to collect their stock from distributors.

He said companies were refusing to come into the area because of the long turn-around time and that daily gridlock often resulted in trucks taking more than three hours to get into the area.

“People steal off the backs of the trucks and other vehicles,” he said. “And once you are in the gridlock, you are stuffed.

“The City does not respond to us in terms their frameworks and solutions to this problem.”

Mr Baxter said in one meeting held with the City, a number of recommendations were made to deal with the problem. Among these was the temporary introduction of pointsmen to monitor the “problematic spot” at the corner of Stock and Rochester roads. “If nothing is not done, this area will become deserted. Big businesses can sustain themselves, but what about your small guy that is trying to make a living?” he said.

He said a quick assessment of the businesses revealed an estimated loss of about R5 million in earnings. “That is not for all the businesses, just about six of them,” said Mr Baxter. Paul Van Oudtshoorn of AgriProtein said his business relied heavily on big trucks to deliver gas. However, most were now refusing to come to the area because of the traffic congestion.

“We must now collect our gas from the suppliers,” he said.

Business people, he said, also had to find alternative routes to move around the area so that they did not get caught in the gridlock.

Another prominent business owner, who did not want to be named to protect his business, said security had become a big concern for businesses in the area. He said his store had been robbed once and there had been two attempted robberies. “There is no emergency access to the area,” he said.

He also complained that “vital suppliers” refused to deliver in the area. “The cost of operation is increasing. We are now forced to go and pick up our stock,” he said.

The businessman added that his business had experienced a 45% decline in trade since the start of the roadworks.

To curb risks, he said, he had been forced to install closed circuit television cameras and electric fencing around his store. He has also built a security tower and a second one would be built soon, he said. “All my managers are forced to go around with two-way radios. Even when I go to sleep, I go with my two-way radio to know what is going on around the business day and night,” he said.

Mayoral committee member for transport and urban development Brett Herron said while the ongoing road works affected traffic flow in the area, he disputed claims that the City had refused to engage businesses, saying there were ongoing plans to ease traffic congestion in the area.

“The City is making every effort to deal with the disruptions that are caused by the construction work. Policing is an ongoing challenge and the project team will continue to engage with the policing authorities in the regard.”

Mr Herron added that in any area where roadworks happened, disruptions were inevitable. “The new infrastructure and public transport services will make a massive improvement to mobility and access in the area and we ask residents to bear with us as we try to implement this as quickly as possible under very challenging circumstances,” said Mr Herron.

Jacques Barnardo from the construction firm Martin & East, which is responsible for the roadworks, echoed Mr Herron’s comments, attributing most of the problems to lawlessness and crime. “It is the lawlessness of the amaphela taxis that is still the major cause of the problem which leads to large interlinks unable to move through the gridlocked intersections,” he said.

“This was brought the traffic and Metro police’s attention, however, they (Metro Police) do from time to time show presence on site and even impound some of the amaphelas who disobey the rules of the road,” he said.

This was confirmed by Mr Herron who said: “The City’s Metro police have assisted and a number of vehicles have been impounded, but this is a large area and they are not able to maintain a full-time presence.”

Police spokesperson Captain Bheki Xulu said while police welcomed the development, they we concerned about the impact the current construction work was having on service delivery. He said police were unable to reach areas on time due to the ongoing gridlock and disregard for the rules of the road, especially between 6pm and 8pm. “Everything comes to a standstill, even for our vehicles to attend to complaints,” he said.

“We asked the traffic department, to assist during peak hours because congestion is caused by motorists who don’t obey traffic rules.”

While Captain Xulu confirmed there had been a spike in business robberies, he said he was unable to link these to the ongoing roadworks.