Taxi industry relieved Mbalula hit a u-turn on rules

A taxi driver is pulled over by the SANDF in Old Standford Road, East London in Eastern Cape, after the taxi was found to be carrying 17 passengers, against the Covid-19 regulations.
A taxi driver is pulled over by the SANDF in Old Standford Road, East London in Eastern Cape, after the taxi was found to be carrying 17 passengers, against the Covid-19 regulations.
Image: /Eugene Coetzee

“The truth of the matter is that we need to keep operating if our business is to continue. The fact is that there aren't enough masks and saniters as well.”

These were the words of a taxi monitor at Bree taxi rank in Johannesburg following transport minister Fikile Mbalula’s visit to the rank on Thursday where he donated buckets of hand saniters and medical masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus.  

Mthandeni Ndlovu, a monitor for the Faraday Taxi Association, told Sowetan that Mbalula’s announcement on Wednesday morning that they could increase their load from having seven passengers to 10 would help to alleviate their financial constraints. 

“I don't think we would have managed to control a full load of passengers by providing them with masks and making sure that everyone had their hands sanitised,” Ndlovu said. “We appreciate that Mbalula has found a middle ground to this situation, because we are operating at a loss and this at least helps to resolve that.” 

Mbalula announced the amendments to the regulations governing public transportation during the 21-day national lockdown  after meeting with the leadership of the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and the National Taxi Alliance (NTA). “All minibus and minibus taxi vehicles are permitted to load their maximum 100% loading capacty as provided for in their operating licences, provided that all passengers are wearing masks... surgical masks or an N95 respiratory mask,” Mbalula said on Tuesday. “Government is making a commitment to assist taxi operators with surgical masks and also with sanitisers.”

However, Mbalula made an about turn on Wednesday evening and rescinded the altered regulation. Mbalula said this decision was taken after meeting with all stakeholders in the taxi industry. Mbalula said some unions indicated that a taxi filled to 100% of its capacity was “risky”.

“It can also be abused and be exploited, particularly if people don’t have masks,” said Mbalula. “We are very clear that government will continue to support sanitising the taxi industry and will continue to support with masks.”

He said the limited times the taxis were operating was to ensure order.

The National Taxi Alliance spokesperson Theo Malele said Mbalula approached associations about a revised figure on the number passengers that could be ferried in a taxi. "The revised figure was a result of public outcry and we had to accept the revised figure because we understand the situation we are in. We also raised our concern that we need to disinfect our vehicles and ensure that the there was hand sanitisers at taxi ranks," he said.

Santaco’s Gauteng secretary-general Ralph Jones said they refused the notion of carrying a full load of passengers as this would compromise the gains made by the government to curb the spread of coronavirus.

“We promoted the 70% loading capacity to our members as it guaranteed social distancing. All taxis must now load 70% only,” Jones said. “100% loading capacity was destined to compromise the lives of commuters."