/ 19 March 2008

Taxi industry puts recapitalisation on hold

The taxi industry on Wednesday placed ”on hold” its participation in the government’s programme to replace old, unsafe taxis with safer vehicles.

The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco), the only body recognised by the government as a representative body of the taxi industry, said it would not continue with the multibillion-rand taxi-recapitalisation programme as long as its concerns were not addressed.

”We’ve noticed the development of the foetus in our stomach. We see less and less progress and as parents we are worried that we are going to give birth to a stillborn … if not a stillborn, an abnormal baby,” said Santaco president Jabulani Mthembu at a press conference in Pretoria.

”It is not our intention to abort, we still want to give birth to this child,” he continued.

The problems highlighted by Santaco included the conversion of taxi permits into operator licences, dissatisfaction with the R50 000 scrapping allowance and the slow speed at which it takes place, and different laws at national and provincial level regulating the industry.

”We want clarity now, not the good answers, because the good answers, at the end of the day, differ from the practicality on the ground.

”What we want from them is an operational plan with deadlines … [once] we’ve got clear programmes and responses on the issues, it’s only then when we’ll move forward,” Mthembu said.

The programme, which was first proposed in the 1990s, has been beset with problems. Since 2006, when it started being implemented, only about 13 000 of an ageing fleet of over 100 000 taxis have been replaced.

In terms of the programme, taxi operators are paid a once-off R50 000 scrapping allowance, which could be used to buy a new approved taxi.

The Treasury has approved a budget for another 8 000 vehicles to be scrapped this year, but this also angered Santaco, which said it planned to scrap over 20 000 vehicles this year.

The government expressed its disappointment that Santaco made the announcement through the media before consulting with it.

”We only heard about this through the media,” said Colin Msibi, spokesperson for Transport Minister Jeff Radebe.

He pointed out that the department had exceeded its budgeted amount of R470-million in the last financial year by spending R663-million on scrapping allowances.

This was proof, he said, that the programme was moving faster than Santaco claimed.

On operating licences, Msibi admitted there were some problems with the Operating Licence Board, but said the department had set aside an amount of money to improve and speed up the work of the board. — Sapa