Fikile Mbalula. Picture: THE TIMES
Fikile Mbalula. Picture: THE TIMES

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has defended the government's decision to allow minibus taxis to carry their full capacity, saying it was made on recommendations from health experts.

The minister did not name the health experts the government consulted.

This comedespite SA’s key agency for training and accrediting public health specialists, the College of Public Health Medicine (CPHM), calling on the government to review the plans outlined by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his address on Sunday night, which permit taxis to carry a full load of passengers for short trips, while allowing a  70% occupancy for  long-distance taxis. Ramaphosa said this was on condition that “new risk mitigation protocols” related to masks, vehicle sanitising and open windows are followed.

The CPHM’s guidance on reducing Covid-19 transmission in public transport, published in March, says vehicles should operate at no more than 50% of their carrying capacity and that windows on both sides of the vehicle should be open. While it acknowledges the use of masks will reduce transmission, the CPHM said physical distancing  and ventilation are important.

“The taxi industry will perish if we continue with 70% (loading capacity)," said Mbalula.

“To this end, bus, taxi and e-hailing, meter taxis, shuttle services, chauffeur-driven vehicles and scholar transport are permitted to carry 100% of licensed carry capacity for any trip not regarded as long distance travel,” he added.

Mbalula said they noted the “need” to increase loading capacity within the public transport sector, and the need to further tighten mitigation measures linked to the capacity increase.

“Consultations with health experts was undertaken and their additional recommendations in the face of the increased loading capacity were duly considered and accepted,” said Mbalula.

“We engaged with the taxi industry leadership in good faith and we found each other on many areas, but there are areas where we differed. However, the door remains open for further engagements on issues where we are not in agreement,” said Mbalula.

He said they have also engaged the Banking Association SA on further relief measures it can extend to the taxi industry pertaining to payment holidays, among others.

On Thursday, trade union federation Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said they will file an application at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) that could see them embarking on a strike over the 100% loading capacity issue.

Pamla said this “capitulation” by the government on the matter was happening at a time when more workers are getting infected by Covid-19. As of Wednesday, the coronavirus has infected 311,049 and killed 4,453 in the country.

Cosatu was engaging on the matter with the hope of finding a resolution but “we reserve the right to mobilise for a protest action if we are not happy with the outcomes of negotiations”.

Meanwhile, Mbalula also announced that three additional domestic airports: East London, George, and Kimberley will resume operations on July 21.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za