The past five months have seen people adjust to the new normal that’s come with the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet millions of South Africans who use taxis have had no other choice but to go back to work using public transport.
While that has meant much-needed economic relief for many households, the risk of using public transport has been a sore point for commuters who worry about their health.
Fears of possible infection were heightened after the announcement a few weeks ago that taxis making local trips were to increase capacity from 70% to 100%.
But Supplier Development Initiatives (SDI), a non-profit organisation created at the start of lockdown and whose co-founder, Andile Ramaphosa, is the president’s son, has been hard at work to help curb the spread of the disease.
The organisation’s aim is to equip taxi and pupil transport vehicles with features that help prevent the spread of Covid-19. It has come up with multiple inventions to try to curb the rate of infection.
A recent invention is by KwaZulu-Natal businessman Mauro Martini (36), who has been working with the SDI, is helping them reach this goal. Times Select reports the inexpensive device fits into the windows of taxi and pupil transports, ensuring they remain at least 30% open.
Another SDI invention sees taxi drivers and commuters separated by inserting a protective plastic shield between the driver and passengers.
In May, as commuters went back to work, they were introduced to sanitising booths at selected taxi ranks to disinfect before getting into taxis.
ON THE GROUND
Essential worker Lesego Moholo (24) has had no other choice but to use taxis to get to work. “The changes that I’ve seen are primarily with regards to the drivers, they all wear masks. The drivers don’t have the authority over passengers who commute without masks. So, you will either have to get into that taxi with someone who isn’t wearing a mask which is unlikely.
“I have not seen shields or new inventions in any of the local taxis. I usually sit in the front if there is space and this means now having to be in contact with money to assist the driver. However, it’s not ideal because the driver doesn’t have any sanitiser or disinfectant, I have to carry my own,” she says.
Lesego has had to take extra precautions, like sanitising after opening the door and sitting down. If she has a surface disinfectant spray, she sprays her seat.
For Lesego Ramakutwane (32) the experience has been a little different. She too is an essential worker. “Most taxis I have been in still provide sanitisers to passengers before entering the taxi, but I haven't seen shields at any.
“But generally, I feel like it's just business as usual and really no general feeling of worry from the taxis anymore. But they are playing their part in terms of making sure every passenger has a mask before entering a taxi,” she says.
WHO IS PAYING?
All these inventions seem to be a drop in the ocean because just a selected few taxi have been fitted with them. Commenting on the newest invention for better ventilation, former secretary-general of Santaco (South African Taxi Association) Ralph Jones asks, “Who is going to pay for that? We have got windows with nets which can be utilised, and we have aircon. We are not impressed with this invention.”
He says he’s heard of many ideas and inventions since the start of the pandemic. “This is all about the government and tenders. Now, they are coming back with someone else. The relief fund is not coming our way. People want us to comply but don’t meet us halfway.
“We also did not invite Covid-19. They are busy with all these ideas that are benefiting them and not people on the ground. Let them come to the ground, we will explain to them what we need,” he says.
As a taxi owner himself, Jones says there is a lot of frustration for what the taxi industry is going through, and no one seems to care.
“You sanitise someone, they tell you not to. You ask someone to wear a mask, they tell you they’re not sick. We have not subsidy. We can’t increase fares because then we are called the enemy to the commuters. We are being blacklisted and our cars are being repossessed. They don’t think for us,” Jones adds.