Taxi industry needs urgent transformation, yet is missing from political party manifestos

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

As our cities grow and become more sophisticated with renewed transportation networks, the minibus taxis will soon be shunned as outdated. This will only intensify violence in the industry, writes Ralph Mathekga.

After going through verses of different manifestos proposed by political parties campaigning for the May 8 elections, it appears that no one is interested in touching the taxi industry. 

South Africa's forsaken taxi industry is in a deep crisis ranging from rampant violence and daring killings, debt-ridden owners caught in the cycle of poverty, underpaid drivers, and a reputation for poor customer service with no meaningful customer complaints system in place. Try telling a taxi driver that you will be reporting him for skipping a red traffic light; that's the end of the journey for you right there!

As if that is not enough, the taxi industry in South Africa is faced with increasing competition from the growing government sponsored urban transportation network. Even without our urban transportation network expanded to its potential reach, it is already denting the taxi industry's revenue base as customers prefer cheaper city buses. 

When it comes to township and urban transport in South Africa, buses are usually cheaper than minibus taxis, whilst the train remains the lowest, except for the ridiculously expensive Gautrain. 

The minibus taxi industry also faces competition from affordable airlines ferrying people between major cities in South Africa. It is way cheaper and more efficient to catch a plane to Cape Town than using a taxi. 

Conditions have worsened for the taxi industry. Sadly, this is an industry that lacks innovation, hence it continues to be left behind as South Africa's story is told. In response to the harsh economic and social conditions in the sector, taxi bosses have continued killing each other. 

The taxi industry in South Africa is very violent and at times uncivil. As I write, there has been a taxi related killing in the last seven days in South Africa. One wonders how many lives are lost to violence in the taxi industry annually in South Africa, and how that number compares to other societies. Could it be that we lose more lives to taxi violence than the average rate of casualties in a civil war? I know that the incredible geniuses at Africa Check will give us the numbers to compare! 

It is not surprising to see increasing conflicts for routes among taxis. There is just too much competition going around in the transportation industry. Consider Uber, an affordable transport that is also expanding into townships. With all of this, the minibus taxi industry has seen more tensions and open conflict. 

In all this, there is no political party that believes that the conditions of the minibus taxi industry are worth their attention. We all love to hate the taxi industry in South Africa. Taxi drivers irritate us in the morning when we drive to work; and they are stubborn like a donkey that just won't move away from the road. 

Why is it that after so many years, taxis still do not have a special lane on our roads since they serve the people? Buses that go around the city have a special lane because they assist many people to get around. One wonders why the same privilege is not afforded to the minibus taxis. 

Government seems to have given up on the project of transforming the industry. Perhaps the plan is to let it die a natural death. As our cities are growing and becoming more sophisticated with renewed transportation networks, the minibus taxis will soon be shunned as outdated. This will only intensify violence in the industry. 

It is unfortunate that opposition parties have not taken a position on the taxi industry. Is it because they have accepted that the fate of the taxi industry is better left with the ANC? That would simply mean the status quo would remain whereby the industry is trailing behind as the story of development is told in South Africa. 

It is unfortunate that the taxi industry has no one looking their direction in the 2019 general elections. As a nation, one way or another we must decide what we want to do with the taxi industry. Either we transform it and integrate it into our transportation network, or we get rid of it altogether. We cannot leave it as it is. 

- Ralph Mathekga is a senior researcher at UWC's Centre for Humanities Research, and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

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