'Our trains are going to be running again': Mbalula promises billions to fix SA's ailing rail system

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Minister Fikile Mbalula. (@MbalulaFikile via Twitter)
Minister Fikile Mbalula. (@MbalulaFikile via Twitter)
  • Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has promised to revamp the ailing railway system through making billions in investments available. 
  • The minister said an announcement in this regard was in the pipeline.
  • Mbalula launched the disbursement of the R1.135-billion taxi relief support fund, meant to ease the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the taxi industry.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has committed himself to easing the current pressure on the transport industry through ensuring that the country’s once efficient train services are restored to their former glory. 

While officially launching his department's R1.135-billion taxi relief support fund, meant to ease the impact of Covid-19 in the industry, Mbalula on Tuesday said there had been a huge outcry from citizens regarding the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) and its broken rail system.

"I would like to assure you, big announcements are in the pipeline regarding a revamping of the metro rail system. Our trains are going to be running again. Billions of rands in investments are on their way, and this year will be a year of delivering to our people," he said. 

Mbalula revealed that a severe strain had been placed on the taxi industry due to the failing rail system. 

The minister cited a recent survey done by Stats SA, which detailed a significant increase in the number of people who use taxis. 

READ | More than R1 billion allocated for taxi industry relief – Minister Fikile Mbalula

"In 2013, there were 9.8 million people who used taxis as their main form of transportation; this jumped to 11.4 miilion in 2020. Nationally, we have 7.6% of citizens who rely on this mode of transport [taxis], and they believe that the prices are too expensive. 80.4% of workers also use taxis to get to and from work." 

While making it clear that the funds being availed were merely an attempt to provide relief, and not an answer to all the industry’s problems, Mbalula reiterated that transport was the backbone of the economy and that government was mandated to give assistance where possible. 

He said:

The loss of revenue during lockdown for the various transport modes created an economic challenge as transport operators experienced an unexpected shortfall in their finances, and the taxi industry was no exception.

Mbalula continued: "Public transport operation was halted due to domestic and international travel prohibitions, and faced reduced demands as their operating hours and passenger capacity were restricted. These measures adversely affected the income of both operators and employees in the industry.

"During alert Level 5, taxis were prohibited from operating. At alert Levels 3 and 4, taxi operations were restricted to 70% capacity. Even when lockdown restrictions were lifted, people were still skeptical over using public transport, and as such we are stepping in to try and assist," said Mbalula. 

Explaining how the application process would work, Mbalula said, in total, there was R1.135 billion in relief intended for all minibus taxis, meter taxis and e-hailing services providers. 

'They must be a South African citizen'

With regards to e-hailing, the minister announced that major companies such as Uber and Bolt would not be benefiting from this fund. 

"For applicants to qualify, they must be a South African citizen, be in a position of a valid operating licence issued on or before the declaration of the national state of disaster. The applicant must be registered with SARS as a taxpayer."

Mbalula said the condition that operators be taxpaying citizens amounted to the beginning stages of transformation and formalisation of the taxi industry. 

READ | NTA calls for reconsideration of 70% long-distance capacity to ‘avoid a fallout’

He added that his department anticipated that if all eligible operators applied - calculated based on the 137 000 legal minibus taxis on the system, 25 000 meter taxis, 1 900 cross-border taxis, and approximately 63 188 e-hailing partners - each would only qualify for a R5 000 in relief. 

He urged taxi owners to share this money with their drivers and taxi marshals, and not to keep it to themselves. 

Mbalula also warned scammers not to try and trick their way into receiving the money meant for taxi operator relief. 

"I know there are a lot of scammers out there, and will try and scam their way into getting this relief fund, but we are ready for them. And I hope, when we complete this process, we won’t be scammed. It's sad that our people fall for these scams. Please don’t fall for any scams, taxi operators," he warned.

The distribution of the taxi relief would be conducted by the National Empowerment Fund (NEF), while Mbalula and NEF chief executive officer Philisiwe Mthethwa also launched a call centre on Tuesday to assist taxi operators with the application process. 

Operators can also fill in the application on the NEF website. 

Mbalula said the application process would be closed by March, but did not give a specific date. 

He said that the delays in disbursing the funds were as a result of the taxi industry's concerns regarding the conditions put in place for the disbursement. 

"We have since addressed these concerns, but many problems remain in the industry, which includes attempts to formalise, regulating the industry and building an economic empowerment model that will be long last and addressing issues of unity." 


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