Charles Cilliers
Journalist
5 minute read
2 Apr 2020
9:51 am

After Mbalula makes hasty withdrawal on full taxi loads, Santaco calls him ‘factionalist’

Charles Cilliers

After Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula rescinded his earlier decision of allowing taxis to carry a full load of passengers, the biggest taxi body in the land says they are wondering who he's actually been listening to.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula sanitising taxi passengers at Bree taxi rank. 2 April 2020. Picture: Twitter/Fikile Mbalula

The minister appears to be see-sawing in a bid to both satisfy the minibus transport sector and retain some semblance of commitment to the national shutdown to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Concerns were immediately raised after the minister announced that taxis could be full provided passengers were wearing masks, which government undertook to provide. However, scientifically, this would not be enough to guarantee the highly contagious coronavirus will not spread in taxis.

Even the highly influential SA National Taxi Council – also the biggest formation – immediately welcomed the decision from their official Twitter account, saying they had always had concerns about loading to 100%.

Although it was not said outright, the assumption is that another taxi grouping was the one pushing for Mbalula to allow full loading capacity. The name mentioned by other commentators was the National Taxi Alliance (NTA). In a televised interview with eNCA, however, Mbalula said the NTA was happy and the difficult negotiations had been with other taxi bosses.

Speaking in central Johannesburg on Wednesday afternoon at a packed taxi rank – incidentally himself in clear violation of the prescriptions against large gatherings – Mbalula said government was doing all it could to curb the spread of Covid-19, including a mass rollout of surgical masks or N95 respiratory masks to passengers. It was not clear whether government would fund the purchase of all these masks or whether the taxi industry would have to fund or partly fund it.

ALSO READ: Mbalula called an April fool as he speaks to hundreds of people at taxi rank

“Don’t get into a taxi that doesn’t follow the rules,” he told commuters.

Taxis would only be allowed to transport people who are deemed to administer special or essential services, he said. People who wanted food needed to buy in nearby areas and avoid flocking into congested areas.

The rules that remain in place are that a minibus licensed to carry 10 passengers is limited to carry a maximum of seven, according to new gazetted rules, which were signed on Monday, though Mbalula only announced them publicly onWednesday.

A 15-seater can now carry 10 people. A 22-seater can load 15, but a four-seater vehicle can still only carry 50% of its carrying capacity, suggesting the concessions were made only to appease the taxi industry.

Mbalula signed off on rules that if a taxi’s passengers were all wearing masks, it would be allowed to be filled to 100% as long as the masks were surgical masks or N95 respiratory masks, but he has apparently now changed his mind on this.

Taxis are being allowed to operate extended hours to cater to social grant beneficiaries this week.

The government would provide both masks and sanitisers at taxi ranks, Mbalula added, while stressing that it was important to ensure everyone in the taxi adhered to proper hygiene.

Taxi associations have been upset at the dire financial implications a lockdown means for their services, as government had earlier decreed that taxis should run half empty.

Government understood this issue, said Mbalula, while reiterating that essential services workers were the focus, as well as the elderly needing transport to collect social grants being the exception this week.

Late on Wednesday Mbalula announced that taxis would only be allowed a loading capacity of 70% and not a full load – masks or no masks – as many operators had wished for, he said.

Mbalula said his decision to stop taxis from transporting full loads was to prevent people from infecting one another.

Taxis, which transport millions of people on a daily basis, have been identified as one of the modes of transportation whereby the virus could easily be spread.

“The unintended consequence of this reduction was an industry operating at a loss as a result of these regulations. The regulations on the Covid-19 lockdown prescribed a 50% loading capacity,” he had said on Wednesday.

“Proposals for a 70% loading capacity for taxis were duly considered as well as a proposal for a 100% loading capacity, with the compulsory mitigation measure of the prescribed N95 respiratory mask as a precondition for all passengers.”

Mbalula said some of the concerns he had received from members of the public were about the 100% loading capacity and the utilisation of masks as a mitigation measure. He did not mention the fact that Santaco was apparently opposed to it all along.

“The public was not comfortable with these measures and urged us to reconsider them. After our announcement of catering for 100%, there was a public outcry about the impact of such an arrangement to the health and safety of public transportation users.

“We took these issues seriously and engaged with key stakeholders, resulting in a consensus of maximising the loading capacity to 70%. We urge the taxi industry to accept these declared measures.”

The new ministerial directions on the new amendment would be published soon for immediate implementation.

Santaco said in a tweet on Thursday morning that Mbalula appeared to be engaging in “factionalist conduct”. They warned that if he “undermines the dynamics in transport, he will be compromised big time”.

(Background reporting, News24 Wire)

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