Taxi associations are threatening to continue filling taxis to capacity, after Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula and the national command council failed to table a clear resolution regarding the relief fund the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) has requested from government.
Following a meeting with their branches, Santaco and the National Taxi Alliance (NTA) said government was not taking the industry seriously. They had decided earlier to challenge government authority by loading passengers at 100% capacity and transporting them across provincial borders in defiance of lockdown restrictions.
NTA spokesperson Theo Malele, who was present at the meeting on Friday, said Mbalula had informed the associations that 100% capacity was impossible at this time because scientists advised against it.
“Mbalula and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize will have to meet this weekend to try to come up with a solution to the problems faced by taxis,” he said.
However, members of the associations were dissatisfied with this announcement, as there was no other option offered to cover the financial losses the industry was incurring.
According to a member at the meeting, the associations requested an alternative plan while they waited for a solution related to the relief fund, and continued loading at 70%.
They were told that their plea for R4 billion had been taken back to the Treasury and they would be advised in the coming weeks of how negotiations went between the minister and the national command council.
The dispute between the parties comes after taxi operators rejected the government’s R1.135 billion relief fund to aid thousands of taxis and their operators during the Covid-19 lockdown. The taxi operators argued that the amount offered would translate to each taxi owner receiving only about R5 000, which would not be enough to cover costs. They wanted at least R20 000 each.
Speaking to City Press, Santaco spokesperson Thabiso Molelekwa confirmed that taxi associations would continue filling their taxis to 100% capacity until Mbalula came back to them with a clear mandate which supported the industry adequately.
According to Molelekwa, the taxi industry had been hard hit with debt, in terms of the holiday payment agreement which expired on July 1.
“Now every operator knows that this month they have to pay the bank, or lose their vehicles. Without practical and real interventions, we’ll be left with a situation where at least 45% of taxis are repossessed by the banks. That’s why operators said that if the state takes our vehicles, we’ll park them and not work,” he said.
Molelekwa said taxi associations had been compliant with the lockdown restrictions thus far but now had to act, as they were losing income while loading at 70%.
“We’ve been 150% compliant with the laws. We went from 50% to 70% loading capacity. We’ve subsequently engaged with the minister, and since the economy’s opening and taxi associations being offered the opportunity to make representations to the national command council and government regarding permission for 100% loading, we’ve done so,” said Molelekwa.
He added that the associations had pleaded with financial institutions to accept their proposals for an altered repayment structure for the next few months to avoid having their vehicles repossessed.
In its proposal, the NTA proposed a 50% payment for the first month, 65% for the following month, 75% for the third month and 100% for the fourth month.
“We believe this arrangement will provide a feasible recovery plan for both the financial institutions and the taxi industry,” said Malele. He explained that the banks had agreed in principle to the proposal, but had not yet put it in writing.
Meanwhile, last week the taxi industry also increased its fares, in addition to loading at full capacity. As a result, commuters in the Tshwane region plan to boycott taxis from July 6.
In a letter seen by City Press, the Mabopane Commuters’ Union urged its members to boycott taxis and use buses, lift clubs and private cars, or walk to work if possible, until taxis decreased their fares or reverted to 70% capacity.
Last week, Mboweni’s spokesperson, Ayanda-Allie Paine, condemned Santaco’s decision and said it was unfortunate that they had decided to take the decision to load at full capacity.
“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”.
Are the taxi associations justified in their ultimatums to government regarding loading capacity and debt relief, and in their increase of fares?
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