Commuters at Bree Taxi Rank during lockdown level 3 in Gauteng, July 11 2020. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE/SOWETAN
Commuters at Bree Taxi Rank during lockdown level 3 in Gauteng, July 11 2020. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE/SOWETAN

The government has given in to pressure from taxi operators, giving the unregulated industry a green light to officially increase its loading capacity up to 100%.

The taxi industry transports about 16.5-million passengers a day and, although it is not regulated, it is said to contribute about R40bn a year to the fiscus.

Taxi operators defied the strict lockdown regulations imposed by the government in level 3, resuming interprovincial travel without the state’s approval. Instead of sticking to the 70% capacity, some operators had gone it alone, carrying the maximum number with no social distancing.

The taxi operators’ break with the regulations was seen as part of their growing frustration over the R1.14bn Covid-19 relief fund from government, which they have dismissed as insufficient compared with the losses operators incurred during the lockdown.

On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that taxis undertaking local trips would now be permitted to increase their  capacity to 100%, while long-distance taxis would not be allowed to exceed 70% occupancy. This was on condition that “new risk mitigation protocols related to masks, vehicle sanitising and open windows are followed”, the president said.

That, however, has been criticised, with some arguing that it could lead to minibus taxis becoming super spreaders of the Covid-19 pandemic, as crucial social distancing regulations will now not be adhered to.

On Monday, co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said interprovincial travel was still not allowed, “except under special conditions such as  going to a funeral or on a work/business-related trip”.

Theo Malele, national spokesperson of the National Taxi Alliance (NTA), one of SA’s largest taxi organisations, said while the president’s address has been welcomed by the industry, the stakeholders would still engage further on the 70% loading capacity for interprovincial operations.

The taxi operators want concessions so as to make up for the 30% losses that will be incurred, he said.

The NTA has previously argued that the 70% versus 100% loading capacity need to be “interrogated” as there is no scientific evidence that suggests “what the rate of [coronavirus] contraction is in the two scenarios”.

“Therefore, the national coronavirus command council will have to deliver its findings on the matter and only after that can the matter be put to rest. So until the findings [are presented to us] the matter remains unresolved,” Malele has said.

On Monday, Malele said the 100% loading capacity for local operations will implemented under stringent conditions including that all taxis must be disinfected, all passengers and drivers must wear masks, and that taxis will be provided with a “gadget that will allow for a window to remain open while [the taxi is] in transit ... so that there is proper ventilation in vehicles”.

With regard to the R1.14bn Covid-19 relief fund for the sector, Malele said the “corporatisation of the taxi industry must be delinked from accessing the relief funds”.

“The taxi industry is very much willing to transform but the relief funds for Covid-19 must be a separate entity altogether. That issue is being attended to,” he said.

Taxi operators are unhappy with the stringent conditions attached to the relief fund, which include that taxi operations be formally registered as businesses and have a bank account into which the relief allowance will be paid.

Among other things, the conditions state that these businesses should be registered for income tax and other applicable taxes related to running a business. They also call for registration of employees with the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the Compensation Commission and for the skills development levy.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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