3 local taxi commuters tell us about their experiences with public transport during Covid-19

General views at a taxi rank in Pretoria as SA entered Level 3 of lockdown.
General views at a taxi rank in Pretoria as SA entered Level 3 of lockdown.
Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images

Frustration is mounting as those in power take decisions that may put ordinary citizens at risk.

In his latest address to the nation, President Cyril Ramaphosa legalised what was already a reality for many South Africans who rely on local minibus taxis for their commute. 

“Taxis undertaking local trips will now be permitted to increase their capacity to 100%, while long-distance taxis will not be allowed to exceed 70% occupancy, on condition that new risk mitigation protocols related to masks, vehicle sanitising and open windows are followed,” Ramaphosa said. 

In the same breath, he also cautioned about the rising number of infections and that the country is nearing its peak. 

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The past few months have seen robust engagements between the minister of transport, Fikile Mbalula, and the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO), the largest taxi council in the country. 

Despite the minister's pleas, SANTACO announced in a tweet from its official account that taxi fares would increase from 1 July 2020. This puts further financial strain on millions of commuters who have already suffered during lockdown. 

Local trips have increased by R4 to R5, and long-distance trips have been hiked by R7. 

Read more | New Covid-19 taxi rules will not slow the rate of transmission - top professor

DRUM spoke to three locals who shared their frustration.

Lynette January* from Cape Town uses taxis to get to work every day. She says they were operating on 100% capacity even before the president’s announcement.

“I work at a hospital, and the taxis doing this adds to my panic,” Lynette says. “The majority, if not everyone, in the taxi wear a mask and every seat is always full. There was a point where I was encouraged to get into an already full taxi as a standing passenger. I did it because, you know, I have to get to work on time.”

The Western Cape has not implemented a fare increase in either its local or long-distance taxis. 

Menzi Thabethe from Durban says residents in the province have to cope with both full capacity and a price increase.

“The fares have gone up only by a small fraction but it still makes a huge hole, considering everyone's finances have been changed by this virus,” Menzi says. 

“The taxis are always full but there are sanitisers provided to us if we don’t have our own. Some people don't wear their masks and the drivers and marshals sometimes don't call them out for it. We also don't say anything because it's so common now.

“Things have changed – people aren't as careful or scared of the virus. It's scary to think that no matter how careful we are, our commute might be what leads us to our fate.” 

Lonwabo Mvango from Johannesburg also says they were expected to sit in full taxis even before the president's address. 

“Not everyone wears a mask – some just do enough to cover their faces. There are drivers who provide us with sanitisers after we've all paid our fare, however, not all of them do this and this inconsistency is worrying,” he says. 

But Lonwabo says he understands why this is happening. “Less than full capacity is beneficial to us because we can maintain social distancing, but it presents a huge loss for the drivers because they get less money for a certain load.” 

The Daily Maverick reports The Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA) has appealed to President Cyril Ramaphosa and his cabinet to review their decision to allow the taxi industry to load at 100% capacity. 

The CMSA says these regulations might “substantially increase the risk of transmission of Covid-19” and that reduced capacity and ventilation of taxis should be implemented, “as both measures are necessary to reduce transmission”.

*Not her real name

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