Noord Street taxi rank in Johannesburg. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ERIC MALEMA
Noord Street taxi rank in Johannesburg. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ERIC MALEMA

The controversial decision by minibus taxi associations to increase fares by more than 170% — which sparked an outcry from commuters — will be reviewed, says SA’s largest taxi organisation, the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco).

This comes after the Alexandra, Randburg, Midrand and Sandton Taxi Association (Armsta) and the Alexandra Taxi Association (ATA) announced hefty increases across the board, effective from June 15. A single taxi trip from Alexandra to neighbouring Sandton currently costs R11, but next Monday will jump to R30, representing a 172% increase.

The two associations blamed the mark-up on the Covid-19 regulations and a price increase in auto spares and fuel.

“This increase is necessary as we are losing revenue and (the) government is not assisting taxi operators,” they said in a joint statement.

In March, minister Fikile Mbalula published a number of directives in the transport industry aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19. One such regulation called on transport vehicles to reduce the number of passengers per trip to 70% of the licensed capacity to allow for social distancing. There were also stringent operating times for taxis during levels 4 and 5 of the coronavirus lockdown and interprovincial travel was prohibited.

This prompted Santaco in April to launch a R3.5bn fund to cushion the blow of the Covid-19 pandemic on the industry, which transports 16.5-million passengers a day.

On Monday, Santaco spokesperson Thabiso Molelekwa told Business Day that while they understand the predicament the taxi industry finds itself in, they are concerned about how ATA and Armsta arrived at the increase.

“A national leadership meeting is going to be held sometime later this week to discuss this issue, among others. An appropriate decision will be taken as to what the increase should be,” he said.

“We are very confident that the decision to increase taxi fares by 172% will be reviewed,” he said.

Molelekwa said since the lockdown began in March, the industry had been operating at a loss and taxi owners had been “subsidising the movement of people for over 60 days of the lockdown”. He said they will receive an update regarding the R3.5bn Covid-19 relief fund for the sector next week.

In a media statement on Sunday, Mbalula said he had noted with “great concern” the fare increase and the ensuing outcry from commuters.

“We are aware that some taxis have not been operating for some time now and that those which have been operating have been doing so in a limited capacity,” said Mbalula.

On Monday, Competition Commission spokesperson Siyabulela Makunga told Business Day Mbalula had not made a referral or lodged a complaint with the commission.

“But we must indicate that anyone, including the minister, may lodge a formal complaint with the commission, which would be considered in terms of Section 8 of the Competition Act to establish whether there are grounds for prosecution,” said Makunga.

“We might also need to indicate that the commission can voluntarily make an inquiry if it’s convinced that indeed there’s room for the commission to undertake a market inquiry, to look at pricing trends of that sector [and] to establish whether there are grounds for prosecution for price hikes.”

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