Coronavirus: Taxi drivers divided over defying government's lockdown capacity regulations

Taxi organisations have vowed to disregard government's Covid-19 regulations.
Taxi organisations have vowed to disregard government's Covid-19 regulations.
Duncan Alfreds, News24
  • Some taxi operators are adhering to taxi associations' call to operate at 100% capacity in defiance of government regulations.
  • Taxi associations and government have not managed to reach common ground following the postponement of several meetings.
  • No incidents or run-ins with law enforcement had been reported by early Monday morning.

Taxi drivers in some areas on Monday vowed to honour associations' calls to defy government's regulations on passenger capacity and travel permits, while others were reluctant and said they would comply with Covid-19 protocols.

Taxi drivers in Johannesburg and Tshwane told eNCA they would not follow instructions by the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and the National Taxi Alliance (NTA) to operate at 100% passenger capacity and disregard passenger permits for long-distance travel.

However, operators in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape were reportedly loading to full capacity on Monday.

A Durban-based taxi driver told eNCA he and others would follow the associations' instructions as they were bleeding financially. He added that he was willing to face the consequences if stopped by law enforcement officials.

Reacting to the inconsistent compliance with its calls, Santaco president Phillip Taaibosch told eNCA it was a democratic organisation and was "mindful" that some of its members will "get the news late", and some will choose "another way".

"This is not a forced situation," Taaibosch said.

Santaco and the NTA say government is not taking the industry seriously and they have decided to take "the bull by its horns" and go back to loading passengers at 100% capacity from Monday, News24 reported earlier.

The taxi operators announced their decisions after meeting with their structures on Saturday and Sunday.

In two separate virtual briefings, Santaco and NTA said they were willing to engage with government through Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, who had been postponing meeting with them multiple times.

Mbalula cancelled a meeting planned for Sunday with the taxi operators, who have been negotiating to carry more passengers, and to cross provincial borders during the coronavirus restrictions.

'Waiting in vain'

On Monday morning, Taaibosch told eNCA he was not given any reasons for the postponements.

The operators had presented four issues to Mbalula – the relief fund, 100% loading capacity, long-distance operations and taxi fares.

Taaibosch said Mbalula had requested time to meet with the National Coronavirus Command Council, and that they had been waiting.

"Since we have been waiting in vain, the leadership last night made the following decision: we have decided that leadership of Santaco provinces must inform their structures that, as of from tomorrow the 29th (Monday), all taxis must load 100% capacity, whether the minister approves or not…

"All long-distance taxis must resume operations as from tomorrow morning. We are also indicating that no permits will be wanted from passengers getting into long-distance taxis," Taaibosch said.

eNCA reported that some taxis had already left KwaZulu-Natal bound for Johannesburg in breach of government's regulations.

Asked what would happen should the taxis be impounded, Taaibosch said the industry would be brought to a "complete standstill".

Santaco spokesperson Thabisho Molelekwa told News24 on Monday some taxi operators were heeding its calls and some were not. He emphasised that, regardless of this, Santaco urged all passengers and drivers to wear masks and sanitise, and asked passengers to report any non-compliance with safety precautions to its management structures.

"We have also heard that some of our taxis have left KwaZulu-Natal for Gauteng. As long as the taxis don't have technical defects and comply with required documentation such as operating licences, we should not have any problem."

He said he was not aware of any clashes with law enforcement by 08:00 on Monday morning.

This is a developing story.

 - Compiled by Riaan Grobler

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