Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula has reiterated President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that taxis are allowed to increase their capacity to 100% for local trips.
Speaking on Thursday, the minister said the department has consulted with the Medical Advisory Council and its recommendations were “duly considered and accepted” when making the decision.
He made it clear that the council did not agree with the 100% capacity — it instead wanted 40% — but Mbalula explained that the latter percentage would cause the taxi industry to “perish”.
Originally, the Covid-19 lockdown regulations prescribed a 50% loading capacity for taxis.
He said that the industry owes banks, is indebted and is not covered in terms of the R500-billion relief package announced by the government.
Mbalula was speaking on Thursday at the Economic Cluster Ministers briefing on combating the spread of Covid-19.
To allow taxis to operate at 100% capacity, the department has made it mandatory for taxis’ windows to be kept 5cm open on both sides. In addition, vehicles should be sanitised before picking up and after dropping off passengers, and passengers must be encouraged to sanitise after they enter and exit the vehicle.
Mbalula added that the taxi bosses at each taxi rank have a responsibility to ensure that these rules are upheld.
The minister said everybody who does not adhere to the regulations is committing a criminal offence and law-enforcement officials will arrest people who break the law.
The minister explained that he is aware that his department carries the “burden” of enabling economic activity, while containing the spread of the virus. “We have no doubt that public transport could pose a real threat to the efforts towards containment of the rapid spread of the pandemic”, Mbalula said.
The taxi industry has previously threatened to shut down operations to protest the government’s relief package of R1.1-billion for the sector. The industry has also previously complained about the 50% capacity regulation, saying that it is losing money. In early April, Mbalula allowed taxis to operate at 100% capacity, but then backtracked to 70%.
Mbalula said the government is not afraid of the taxi industry and its recent decisions are guided by “rationale”.
Covid-19’s Catch-22 effect
He said the government’s efforts are saving lifes and ensuring that the economy does not come to a standstill. He said the decisions made in the context of Covid-19 are not easy: “You take it [ a decision], you are damned; you do not take it, you are damned”.
Mbalula reiterated that the government has been having discussions with the taxi industry about the effects of Covid-19 and the losses that the industry is incurring.
“We engaged with the taxi industry leadership in good faith and we found each other in many areas, but there are areas where we differ. However, the door remains open for further engagements on issues where we are not in agreement,” he noted.
The department has also had discussions with the Banking Association South Africa on further relief measures they can extend to the taxi industry.
Mbalula informed the media that his department is still planning to give the industry the R1-billion once-off “ex gratia” payment.
He said Covid-19 showed the difficulty of dealing with an unregulated industry and the department is working on plans to fully regulate the taxi industry through formalising and professionalising it, as well as working towards subsidising it.
Taxis and buses travelling long distances are allowed to operate, with capacity capped at 70%.
Mbalula also announced that East London, George and Kimberley airports have met all the requirements to open and will resume operations on July 21.