Taxi owners call for action on licences

MINIBUS taxis are often described as "coffins on wheels" and a recent crackdown on illegal licences and unroadworthy taxis proved why..

Taxi drivers complain about the long wait to obtain legal licences but you can buy the licence illegally in Mamelodi outside Pretoria for R15,000, and your taxi will be on the road immediately.

Last week Sowetan enquired about an illegal taxi licence from the Mamelodi Local and Long Distance Taxi Association (Malldta).

An official said a payment of R5,000 was needed first to join the association.

"Once you are a member we will find you someone in our association who has had his taxi scrapped, but still has an operating licence," he said. "The two will go together to the transport department, where someone will help you formalise the documents.

"You will then pay the taxi owner on the spot. The licence could cost you up to R15,000, depending on the person selling it."

Armed with the illegally obtained certificates, taxi owners rebuild taxis and put them back on the roads or buy new vehicles and operate them without going the legal route.

A check with the Department of Roads and Transport revealed that you can obtain your taxi operating licence for just R300, and that it is valid for seven years. The penalty for this hugely cheaper deal is wading through red tape.

Taxi organisations operating in Mamelodi fear that if the illegal taxis are not stopped, violence will erupt.

A group of taxi owners aligned with the Mamelodi Amalgamated Taxi Association (Mata) say they are frustrated by the authorities who do not take action against people who issue illegal documents.

Mata first discovered there were illegal operating licences in their association in 2007.

The problem escalated in 2008 and they approached the Gauteng department of transport, roads and works, which is responsible for issuing the licences.

"What the officials would do was to take the documents we had brought to them and then ask for more documents. When we returned they would tell us the previous documents had gone missing," said one Mata member, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

"We then went to the Mamelodi police station to open a case. To our surprise the police told us that only the department of transport could open the case."

While the association was given the run-around the number of illegal taxis increased. Operating licences were allegedly issued through a partnership between Malldta and officials within Gauteng department of roads and transport.

"As taxi owners we are scared that if this continues unabated it will result in taxi violence. We are also scared that if our names and pictures are published these people will just shoot us," one taxi owner said.

Mata also claim that they have complained to the Public Protector, albeit not in writing.

Mamelodi police station Warrant Officer Michael Mbewe said the matter had been given to provincial spokesman LieutenantColonel Lungelo Dlamini to deal with.

"If there is corruption somebody must come to us with a sworn statement to say this and this happened with evidence, so that we can investigate. If there is no case that is opened I do not respond with my opinion," Dlamini said.

"Can you give me the number of the person who went to the Mamelodi police station so that I can assist them with opening a case," he said.

When asked again yesterday if a case had been opened, Dlamini could not confirm whether one had been opened or not.

According to department of roads and transport spokeswoman Octavia Mamabolo they are going to continue to confiscate certificates and impound taxis that use illegal licences.

"The department and law enforcement agencies are aware of fraudulent documents in circulation in the taxi industry. When officers apprehend people in possession of such documents the department verifies their authenticity and (if necessary) the vehicle is impounded."

Mamabolo said her department would liaise with Mata and the police.