Spare a thought for commuters

Commuters at the Noord Street taxi rank in Johannesburg. The writer says there can be no doubt that the stance taken by taxi associations, regardless of their reasons, is a provocative one that is as much a form of protest as it is a means to increase revenue.
Commuters at the Noord Street taxi rank in Johannesburg. The writer says there can be no doubt that the stance taken by taxi associations, regardless of their reasons, is a provocative one that is as much a form of protest as it is a means to increase revenue.
Image: SUNDAY TIMES / ERIC MALEMA

"This is our business, nobody is subsidising us. We are sick and tired of subsidising passengers. We've been subsidising passengers for 100 years."

This is how Mashishi Mashishi, the deputy chairperson of South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) Greater Johannesburg region justified the decision by at least 76 minibus taxi associations to hike fares by up to 170% from next week.

Operators say they need to make up for lost income during the lockdown and social distancing regulations which compelled them to transport fewer passengers per trip.

They also lament not receiving financial relief aid which they had been expecting from the government since the lockdown induced by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There can be no doubt that the stance taken by the associations, regardless of their reasons, is a provocative one that is as much a form of protest as it is a means to increase revenue.

On the opposite end of that decision are commuters who simply cannot afford the added financial pressure.

The government believes the decision is unfair and transport minister Fikile Mbalula has threatened to refer it to the Competition Commission for an investigation.

However, as Mbalula knows the decision is underpinned by the fact that the taxi industry is unregulated and as associations point out, unsubsidised.

This means operators play by their own rules, setting prices as they see fit and citing their lack of government assistance as a justification for ultimately punishing their customers.

If Mbalula is serious about making interventions, these are the hard questions that the government must confront.

This week Gauteng transport MEC Jacob Mamabolo said he was due to meet captains of the industry today to discuss the increases.

"Using force and threats is not going to help the taxi industry. The new norm that the taxi industry must adopt is to resolve problems around a table," he said.

Whatever the outcome of those talks, what is clear is that the status quo is simply unsustainable as it leaves thousands of commuters vulnerable to financial bullying.

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