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Taxi regulations relaxed, industry suffering

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Local taxi association members have indicated that they have already been hit hard by the restrictions imposed.

WHILE regulations regarding the transport of passengers by taxis have been relaxed slightly, local taxi association members have indicated that they have already been hit hard by the restrictions imposed.

The revised transport regulations were announced by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula on Wednesday but some local taxi operators fear that job losses may already be on the cards for the industry.

Taxi owners said that they have already suffered a heavy financial blow following the regulations placed on the industry during the first week of the 21-day lockdown period. 

They said on Wednesday that it would be difficult to pay assistant drivers (jump boys) as well as drivers due to the limited operating hours imposed by the government.

The taxi operators added, however, that they would do their part to support the government in its efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19, despite the financial hardships.

A new gazette issued on Wednesday allows public transport, transporting essential services personnel, to operate from 5am to 10am and again from 4pm to 8pm.

This was after several complaints were raised by workers providing essential services that the initial taxi hours did not suit them. Shoppers also indicated that they had been left stranded at taxi ranks.

A worker at the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital, Kedisaletse Moncho, was among those stranded at the Kimberley taxi rank after she had to buy a few essential items at a supermarket and was delayed in the queues.

Moncho suggested that priority in shopping queues should be afforded to essential services workers and those who have to work during the lockdown period.

“It is not fair as we do not have all day to stand in long queues like other people. On Tuesday we were caught in the rain and ended up getting soaked while we waited in the queues at the supermarket. While others could stay at home, we had to go to work today,” she said.

The Department of Transport has amended the regulations pertaining to the transportation of workers in essential services.

Minibuses and midibuses are allowed a grace period to proceed to pick-up points, without loading passengers, an hour before the pick-up operating times and an hour after the operating times in order to finish offloading passengers.

The gazette stipulates that institutions which are performing essential services may make arrangements for the transportation of their employees in line with their operating shifts or work time schedules as determined by the operations head or relevant person with authority. 

The gazetted amendments state that public transport vehicles are obliged to reduce their maximum licensed passenger seating capacity to 70%, while a minibus or midibus may load 100% of its licensed passenger capacity provided that all passengers are wearing surgical masks or N95 respiratory masks.

A private vehicle licensed to carry up to four passengers may only transport 50% of its licensed capacity.

“The operating shifts or timetable should be stamped and signed by the person with such authority,” read the gazette.

The previous gazette allowed the taxis to operate between 6am to 9am, and then again at 4pm to 8pm.

Police and traffic officers have been in action at taxi ranks to ensure that taxi operators abide with the regulations.

On Wednesday, local taxi operators said they were aware of the new amended transport regulations and explained that under the previous regulations they were “not making any money”.

The Kimberley Taxi Association (KTA) indicated on Wednesday that it has not yet met as an association to discuss the regulations due to shared responsibilities. The association has divided its members into two groups since the inception of the 21-day lockdown in order to share operating hours.

A KTA member, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the new regulations would not make up for operator’s financial losses over the past few days.

“We are not making money. The income coming in is very low and we don’t know how we will survive. We are only making enough to pay for the petrol and to buy a little food. We will not even be able to manage the monthly instalments on the vehicles,” said the operator.

The operator further highlighted that the jump boys were usually the first people targeted by police or traffic officers in cases of overloading.

He said they have had situations where passengers were removed from taxis and had to wait for another taxi in the middle of nowhere. “That is usually due to the arrogance of the driver who refuses to obey the lockdown regulations.”

He further urged workers to ensure that they arrive at the rank in time to avoid being left stranded after 8pm.