An estimated 250,000 minibus taxis, such as these near Bree Street in Johannesburg, operate in SA. Picture: ALON SKUY
An estimated 250,000 minibus taxis, such as these near Bree Street in Johannesburg, operate in SA. Picture: ALON SKUY

The taxi industry, which transports 16.5-million passengers a day in SA, says it is negotiating with the government for interprovincial operators to be permitted to carry full passenger loads to help them make up for losses incurred during the lockdown.

Local travel restrictions were lifted a month ago allowing taxis to carry a 100% load. The restrictions for interprovincial travel are still pegged at 70%.

Interprovincial travel has been banned ever since the onset of the national lockdown except in special circumstances, which  included work and funerals of close family. Even then, travellers needed specific documents to do so.

The government eased these lockdown regulations from Monday at midnight, permitting citizens to move between provinces, visit family and friends and also lifting the ban on domestic travel for leisure tourism, among others.

Cross-border operations are still prohibited as the country's borders remain closed.

The government’s decision on the 100% loading capacity for local operations, however, has been criticised by health experts as the “most efficient way” to spread the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Thabiso Molelekwa, spokesperson of the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco), the country’s largest taxi organisation, told Business Day on Tuesday that in their discussions with the government, they were putting forward a “compelling case” for the state to permit long-distance operators to fully load taxis, instead of the current 70% loading capacity.

Molelekwa said the move to level 2 would lead to more passenger traffic as commuters no longer need to get a permit to travel between provinces.

“Level 2 means we must find ourselves [on the road to] recovery.” The only “outstanding issue” was the 70% loading capacity for long-distance operations.

“Long-distance operators were the most affected, primarily because they have been on lockdown since level 5 [of the lockdown] started in March. In level 3 they were afforded opportunity to do interprovincial travel with 70% loading capacity,” he said.

“There’s a need for us to look at how we can persuade government to assist long distance operators to load 100% [capacity]. Those discussions are now in process ... we hope to find a solution to this very soon.”

Theo Malele, spokesperson of the National Taxi Alliance, SA’s second-largest taxi organisation, told Business Day that the move to alert level 2 will “ease the burden” the taxi industry — which contributes R40bn per year to the fiscus — has been enduring for the past five months of the lockdown.

“The citizens can now travel for leisure across the country [and] that is good news to us.” He said they would make sure health and safety protocols were “followed to the latter so that there is no resurgence of Covid-19”.

“It will take us a bit of time to get back to normality. But we welcome [the easing of restrictions] and we are more certain that the future of the taxi industry looks bright.”

The unregulated  taxi industry is yet to accept the R1.14bn Covid-19 relief fund the government has offered, rejecting the stringent conditions attached to it that are aimed at formalising the sector. The industry said the relief was too little compared with the losses it had incurred during the lockdown.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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