EXPLAINER | Why taxis decided to increase capacity to 100% despite Covid-19 fears

Long-distance taxis are loading at 100% capacity at the Wanderers taxi rank.
Long-distance taxis are loading at 100% capacity at the Wanderers taxi rank.
Canny Maphanga, News24
  • Some taxis across South Africa started operating at 100% load capacity in contravention of the government's regulations.
  • This after taxi associations repeatedly expressed concern over the financial viability of the industry due to Covid-19 regulations.
  • Here is what led to taxis defying government's regulations.

A number of taxis started operating at 100% capacity on Monday morning in line with associations' call to defy government's 70% capacity regulation in light of Covid-19.

Some taxis, however, said they were reluctant to defy state regulations and would comply with Covid-19 protocols.

In separate virtual briefings on Sunday afternoon, the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and the National Taxi Alliance (NTA) announced the move to 100% capacity, and to travel interprovincially.

The taxi associations' announcement came after Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula postponed two different meetings with them to discuss state support and transport regulations.

Taxi associations are concerned about the financial viability of the industry and that some operators aren't making enough to cover fuel costs due to the regulations.

Here's what led to taxi associations deciding to increase vehicle capacity to 100% despite government regulations.

Why are taxi associations calling for 100% capacity?

Santaco national spokesperson Thabisho Molelekwa said taxi owners across South Africa have been hard hit by the national lockdown, raising fears that they will not be able to make their vehicle loan repayments from 1 July, when their payment holiday period will end.

Molelekwa said operating at 70% capacity and being barred from travelling interprovincially have severely impacted cash flows, with some owners struggling to make enough money to cover fuel costs.

He said the situation has been compounded by the continued increasing impounding of taxis during the lockdown.

Santaco estimates 45% of taxi owners could have their vehicles repossessed in the next six to eight months, and the industry is losing around R25 million per day due to Covid-19.

The NTA has said its members should increase fares by not more than 40% due to lower load factors in light of Covid-19, and increasing costs for personal protective gear and sanitation.

Outrage over government's R1.135 billion relief fund

Mbalula announced a R1.135 billion relief package for the taxi industry on 19 June – one of the largest relief packages for a single subsector in South Africa during the pandemic.

This would amount to R5 000 per taxi, while associations were calling for R20 000. It would also be administered by the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

Mbalula said most sectors only received R350 million in support, and reaching the agreement with government required extensive lobbying and convincing as funds are extremely limited.

Santaco's Molelekwa however, described the relief package as a "slap in the face", and insufficient as it must be shared between taxi operators, metered taxis and e-hailers.

The association then embarked on a shutdown of services in Gauteng which left thousands of commuters stranded, and cases of intimidation were reported.

Mbalula, who urged taxi associations to not shut down, admitted the decision to avail R1.135 billion to the industry as relief support was "too little" to compensate for the lockdown, but said government did not have more money to give.

Cancelled meetings with minister, and the announcement of 100% capacity

Santaco and the NTA were set to meet with Mbalula on Wednesday, 24 June to discuss their concerns, but the meeting was postponed to Sunday for a meeting to be convened with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC).

At the time, Molelekwa said their rejection of the relief fund and its outrage that it is administered by SARS, increasing to 100% capacity and interprovincial travel, required consultation with the NCCC.

The minister, however, cancelled the meeting on Sunday, with his spokesperson Ayanda Allie Payne saying a meeting of the NCCC was only scheduled for Tuesday.

She said Mbalula did not have the power to make and sign off on regulations called for by himself.

Speaking during the virtual briefing on Sunday afternoon, Santaco's president Philip Taaibosch said Mbalula's office had not provided any reasons why their meetings were postponed.

Taaibosch said they had decided it would be irresponsible to put the fate of the industry in the hands of government, which continued to postpone meetings.

He said Santaco, therefore, decided that all taxis operate at 100% capacity, and that interprovincial travel is permitted without requiring permits from passengers, "whether the minister approves or not".

NTA general secretary Alpheus Mlalazi said they were unhappy that aircraft were able to travel interprovincially, while taxis were not, adding they viewed this as discrimination.

In a statement after the associations' announcement, Mbalula said he had in fact engaged with industry leaders last week and had committed to giving them an update, but had to reschedule due to "unforeseen circumstances".

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