The reform of South Africa’s taxi industry was at the forefront of discussions at a three-day National Taxi Legotla which drew to a close in Johannesburg on Saturday. Transport minister Fikile Mbalula expressed optimism that the engagement between the various stakeholders would see the sector regulated and subsidized in coming months.
It comes on the heels of several violent altercations over taxi routes, disputes with government over stabilization and a crackdown by officials fining illegal operators. Violence within the Western Cape was of particular concern, amid several investigations into murder and attempted murder cases. Commuters have also been injured.
Delegates further agreed to tackle gender-based violence through “penalties and sanction for those who perpetuate these crimes and are found guilty must be sanctioned as an operator”.
Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat on Monday, Western Cape Minister of Transport and Public Works Bonginkosi Madikizela highlighted that the subsidizing of the industry was among the most welcomed resolutions. This is set to be rolled out in April 2021.
Madikizela noted that taxis are the preferred mode of transport for half of the Western Cape’s commuters. He emphasised that the subsidy is intended to benefit the commuter and not individual taxi operators.
“The subsidy is not for taxi owners. The way the taxi industry is structured in South Africa, with rail transport and busses, the subsidy is meant for the passengers, so they can pay affordable prices. We need to contextualize this because when we talk about subsidization of the industry people suddenly think we are going to pay money to the taxi owners.”
“The rail transport is dysfunctional. It’s very important for us as government, to find each other with the industry so eventually the industry becomes professional, efficient and safe for commuters.
A recent “Red dot initiative”, Madikizela said, will be used as a “launch pad” to formalize the industry, adding that regulation is of utmost importance.
“(It’s) successes already told us as government that if we put conditions on the table for the industry to work professionally, we (are) able to formalize it,” he said.
“We had a number of discussions and the industry understands that this is not carte Blanche- there are a number of things we need to do including the implementation of the regulations.”
“As government, we can only pay subsidies when we formulate a relationship with the industry.”
Chairperson of South African National Taxi Council Association (SANTACO) Nazeem Abdurahman described the association’s response as “responsive” and “positive”.
He noted that the Lekgotla was “meant to pick up on NTTT recommendations” put forth in a document by former Transport MEC late Dullah Omar and former Western Cape Community Safety MEC Leonard Ramatlakane. The plan, created in Durban prior to 1995, “strives to guide and strengthen the industry.”
Abdurahmaan said the subsidy was welcomed and added that the percentage of passengers have increased, given the failure of rail services.
“The guidelines for (roll-out of subsidies) has not been lined out but the intention is to subsidize the poorest of the poor, that spends most of their money on public transport to make sure they get to work and from. The benefit must go to the operator and obviously.”
He added that the additional funding will lead to improvements in the sector.
“This means they will be able to send their drivers for training, upskill them in terms of customer care and obviously have better vehicles. It’s very difficult for the minibus taxi industry to keep those minibuses on the road because it’s a very expensive commodity. But, with the subsidy, we will be able to provide a world class service that our customers and commuters deserve.
Madikizela said he is hoping to maintain the “very strong relationship with SANTACO”.
The rebates, Abdurahmaan said, will assist to run the business more effectively “because at the moment it is very expensive.”
In being questioned around e-hailing services, Madikizela said that engagement is ongoing.
“While as government, we accept the innovation, it has disrupted the market and we have to make sure we apply the rules equally. If any mode of transport is regulated and they are servicing the same market, you can’t have a player that comes with its own rules.”
Abdurahmaan echoed the sentiment.
“The e-hailing service is not a sector that should not be operating on their own; they should be branching out from the taxi industry. People took the opportunity by coming to South Africa and to the world with these apps that people pre-book services. It’s important that we do a proper assessment and see where the shortfall is and incorporate all modes of transport so that we can work together by moving our people on a safe, affordable and reliable basis.”