Taxi operators are adamant that they will continue filling their vehicles to capacity and travelling between provincial borders.
This was according to SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) spokesperson Thabisho Molelekwa, who told City Press on Tuesday that these two issues were the main bone of contention between taxi operators and the transport department.
Talks between the taxi industry and Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula were deadlocked on Monday with another meeting scheduled for Thursday.
While the impasse continues, Santaco has urged taxi drivers to continue breaking these level three Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown regulations.
Molelekwa said that while “long distance operations and the 100% capacity were the main issues of taxi operators”, they [taxi operators] would carry these out while “adhering to the health and safety regulations set out by the national command council”.
“We want 100% [capacity] and we want long distance operations. But we are prepared to execute these requests of ours under the conditions of the health and safety standards of the council. We will engage with the minister on those when we meet on Thursday,” he said.
“We have agreed that we will give the minister time to engage with the national command council and to persuade them to agree to our terms and we will meet the minister on Thursday where he will give us feedback on what the council decided.”
“At the heart of the argument of the council would be concerns around health related issues. We are more than happy to engage with the council on whatever conditions they present.”
Molelekwa added: “While we wait for the decision by the council, we, as taxi operators have decided to set our own health and safety standards in terms of the Covid-19 regulations, to ensure that we are compliant.”
“For local distance, we are saying commuters should be sanitised, the taxi should be sanitised, commuters should have a mask on and they should not allow a driver to ferry them around unless he, too, has a mask on. We urge commuters to report incidents where this does not happen.”
“For long distance travel, we have said that commuters must be screened, sanitised and ensure that they have masks on. The taxi should be sanitised. Because this is for long distance travel, we have also said that operators should take breaks while on the road, to allow the taxi to breathe and for those occupying it to get fresh air.”
“We also want to say to law enforcement that, we will comply with health and safety standards. We don’t want them to harass us.”
Mbalula’s spokesperson, Ayanda-Allie Paine, said on Sunday night that the decision taken by the taxi industry leadership was unfortunate.
“It is regretful that the taxi industry leadership has elected to violate the law and forcefully load taxis at 100% capacity, and undertake interprovincial operations without the requisite permits, instead of awaiting the decision on the matters they have tabled,” she said.
Paine emphasised that “the legal loading capacity remains 70% and is enforceable by law enforcement authorities”.
“Minister Mbalula appeals to the leadership structures of the taxi industry to reconsider their decision to incite lawlessness and place their drivers and passengers on a direct collision course with law enforcement authorities,” she said.
“I think it is important that we remember that all the measures that have been put in place as a response to the Covid-19 outbreak are driven by the commitment to preserve human life and avoid an uncontrolled spread of the virus.”
However, taxis around the country began filling up to maximum capacity for the first time on Monday.
Molelekwa said, in the meeting with Mbalula, the taxi industry “told the minister that we still are not happy with the R1.135 billion [relief fund] offer but that is not a matter that is pinching the taxi operators at the moment.
"The main bone of contention for us at this juncture is that of 100% loading capacity and the long distance operations. These are our main issues. What we make now does not put food on the table. Let’s deal with what can relieve the operator first.”
Molelekwa’s comments come on the back of Santaco’s taxi shutdown in Gauteng last week, which was in response to government’s relief fund offer, which the taxi industry rejected.