Local taxi association ‘forced to act against illegal operators’

2019-03-13 15:26
The Brookside Mall taxi holding area, which is being used to manage traffic congestion in town.

The Brookside Mall taxi holding area, which is being used to manage traffic congestion in town. (Ian Carbutt)

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The Northern Suburbs Taxi Association (NSTA) says it is being forced to take action against illegal taxi operators who wreak havoc along their routes and poach their customers.

And, it says illegal taxi operators have in recent years taken millions in passenger fees which are rightfully due to its members.

The NSTA invited The Witness to meet its operational team in response to a recent report that the association had impounded an alleged illegal operator, charging him R2 000 to have his vehicle released. That operator opened a criminal case of extortion against the NSTA, which is currently still under investigation by police.

The organisation told The Witness that the northern suburbs are plagued by “hundreds” of illegal operators who scout their routes and “steal” passengers who are rightfully meant for licensed operators who work by the book. The association, which has 70 members, said it has in recent times taken it upon itself to clamp down on illegal behaviour, fearing for the safety of the public and the future of their businesses.

The Witness previously reported on other taxi associations and meter taxi operators complaining of illegal operations. They feared having to take matters into their own hands to stamp out the problem.

Now the NSTA says it has been forced to use more aggressive methods to deal with illegal operators because of a “collapse” of law enforcement, and an alleged lack of willingness by traffic cops.

Members of the NSTA who sought to explain the bigger picture said they were compelled to use actions like impounding vehicles because the ongoing shady practices by illegal operators were giving their industry a bad name.

Venesh Kistensamy, public relations officer for the NSTA, said unlicensed operators are rife.

“In 2015, there was a moratorium [by Msunduzi] for home-based permits. This is when a taxi is based at their home and they go out when they get called. Yet there are many operating with licences from beyond 2015.”

The NSTA said it was unlikely that these licences were legitimate since the process of obtaining certain kinds of permits required a letter from Msunduzi and to be part of a hearing with the Department of Transport.

“These operators have no passenger liability, so should an accident happen there is no insurance to cover the safety of passengers,” Kistensamy said, adding that illegal operators were also known to overload vehicles and drive badly.

“They park on the road, at bus stops, in front of shops and in shop parking lots. We observe them for a period of time then we go to stop them and we find that they have no permit and don’t even have Pietermaritzburg licence plates,” he said.

“Then when there’s an accident, we get crucified by the authorities, when in fact we are the ones that comply with the rules.”

Replying to a query, Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the fact that taxi associations took matters into their own hands did not sit well with the City.

“Meetings are held with them to address traffic issues that they raise pertaining to their industry. [The transportation board] has a dedicated public transport unit which is tasked on a daily basis to deal with public transport issues,” Mafumbatha said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  taxi industry

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