Drivers, owners anxious about Covid-19 and school transport livelihoods

Schools closed on March 18 as part of the country's fight against the spread of the coronavirus, and now drivers and businesses involved in school transportation are taking a serious financial knock.
Schools closed on March 18 as part of the country's fight against the spread of the coronavirus, and now drivers and businesses involved in school transportation are taking a serious financial knock.
Image: Gallo Images/iStockphoto

“Our income and livelihood depends on children going to school,” said Steven Gumede, a  concerned transport driver in East London.

He is worried about the effect schools closing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic will have on small businesses such as the school transport system in the Eastern Cape.

Schools closed on March 18 after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster as part of the country's fight against the spread of the virus. The country reported 274 confirmed infections on Sunday.

While some drivers will be able to make ends meet by month end, the uncertainty around whether schools will reopen on April 14 is causing panic.

Marlon du Plessis's business transports children from 15 different schools in the south of Johannesburg. He works on an advance-payment system to ensure his drivers are paid on time.

“On income, my school transport business has not been affected this month but we also run a shuttle service that works on commission, and that has taken a drastic downturn,” he said.

Du Plessis said the shuttle service boosted the basic salaries earned by drivers in the school transport business. However, this month it seems they will be living on the basic salary alone.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, Du Plessis said, the drivers had made only a third of the commission they usually earned.

“My biggest concern is that if schools do not open on April 14, there will be no salaries to pay because parents won't pay if we are not providing the service.”

He said steps had been implemented in the shuttle business to ensure customers were confident about their health and safety.

To minimise customers having contact during the drive, drivers were told revert to the "old-school" way of operating - they open and close doors for customers and vehicles are sanitised.

“We are taking precautions but the pandemic is having a financial effect on businesses” he said.


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