Full loads no respite for taxi drivers

13 July 2020 - 09:40
By Tankiso Makhetha
Commuters  at Bree Street taxi rank  during the lockdown level 3 in Gauteng.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE Commuters at Bree Street taxi rank during the lockdown level 3 in Gauteng.

Defying lockdown regulations by loading full capacity and commencing inter-provincial operations has done little to help the taxi industry survive.

Bongani Zondi, an executive member at Faraday Taxi Association, said the industry, despite taking matters into its own hands, is barely scratching the surface and is still struggling amidst ongoing discussions with the government on how they can operate while mitigating the spread of the virus.

"It's not like we are making money. The loads have decreased even though we are loading 100% capacity.

"People are not going to work, schools are closed and everything is operating on a minimal level.

"Of course, we are scared of the virus. We have five (taxi) owners who have died because of it, so we are aware of it and are trying our best not to contribute to its spread."

Thabisho Molelekwa, the South African National Taxi Council's (Santaco) chief strategic officer, said they have not received feedback from the department of transport regarding their concerns in connection with the lockdown regulations.

"We had a meeting with minister [Fikile] Mbalula over the weekend (last weekend).

"The meeting was to zoom in on our case and its merits, how we could sell the idea of us operating without risking the lives of our passengers," he said.

He said the fare increment introduced on July 1 would do very little to mitigate the financial loss experienced during levels five to four.

"The money being made by our operators is merely for survival. There are challenges in terms of the money lost during the hard lockdown. The only way our members can survive is if there is an intervention in the form of a relief," he said.

Santaco went on an assessment drive last week and observed operations to determine whether operators have been compliant with measures it has enforced to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Molelekwa said they found worrying results from their observation. "It was worrying because for the most part we found that drivers and passengers are compliant. But we also found that drivers and passengers only put on their masks when they see law enforcers. You'll find that they have their masks on their chins but put them back on when they see officers. This is conditional compliance," he said.

Asked about the speed of discussions between the taxi industry and government and the presentation made to the National Covid-19 Command Council, Mbalula's spokesperson, Ayanda-Allie Paine, said she could not comment on the matter at the moment as discussions were still ongoing.

A taxi operator affiliated to Faraday Taxi Association said they were operating on a double-edged sword: "Either we provide for our families or we die from the virus."

Makhosini Nkosi, who has been a taxi driver for 14 years and operates from Bree taxi rank, in Johannesburg, said: "I heard that we need to return to the rank if we see that someone is not feeling well. If we hear them coughing or displaying symptoms. But we don't do that because we don't have the petrol for that," he said.