by Akhona Makasi

TRANSPORTATION IN SOUTH AFRICA

The leading transportation business in South Africa

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The ridiculously loud hooters, conductors rushing around approaching potential passengers, people shouting out there destinations, the aroma of Amagwinya and livers sold by the lady in the red greasy apron, the endless queues filled with agitated employees rushing for work, loud laughs and conversations on the weather, politics and everything under the sun.  It is somewhat a culture in most below average communities -The taxi rank is the heart and home of the land public transportation business in the country.

South Africa has one of the most notorious and competitive taxi industries globally. Functioning mostly in Townships and some urban areas, competition remains the main source of the cosmic taxi violence occurrence in many parts of the country.

The taxi industry is almost absolutely dominated by the black community, majority of them being men. One can then ask if the lack of feminine presence in the taxi business is one of the reasons for the negative aura around the industry. The industry unfortunately is of an exclusive and unwelcoming nature.

It is unfortunate that the only taxi rank stories we hear about women, are those that expose the patriarchal nature of these environments, where you hear that a woman was molested or attacked or even harassed for whatever reason. These are the things that increase the culture of vulnerability in women amongst the black community. 

Safety, Development and Innovation

The taxi industry in South Africa remains one of the major contributors in the economy, this means that the industry has the capacity to decrease the unemployment rate by having an all inclusive industry where women can equally contribute toward the growth and development of the taxi industry. There is currently a huge gap in terms of development and maintenance in the taxi industry. When providing services, especially those carried out by the taxi industry, people put their lives in the hands of the driver, therefore safety of passengers need to be a priority the same way profit is made to be a priority.

The safety of taxis in SA leaves much to be desired. According to the road safety agency – arrive alive, most taxis are in very old and in a bad state and Of the 36 lives lost daily on our roads – 3 are killed in taxi related incidents . This puts the lives of those who rely daily on the taxis for commuting in danger. In essence, the safety of and reliability of taxis in SA is one of the aspects that need to be constantly managed. The South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) and the government need to work together in order to improve the taxi industry. Programmes for First Aid and primary health care need to be skills that taxi drivers and conductors are equipped with.

In 2003, the Department of Transport introduced the Taxi Recapitalisation Programme, which was set to remove all taxis that are not up to standard and compromise the safety of the passengers off the road. The TRP is also meant for ensuring the accessibility and comfort of passengers by monitoring the size and number of seats in a taxi as well as colour coding vehicles to differentiate and identify legal and illegal taxis on the road. In 2015, government announced that more than 60 000 taxis had been removed from the roads.

The relatively new innovative forms of public transportation i.e. the controversial e-hailing services, the taxi industry faces much more competition. This has awakened the violence between the e-hailing taxi services, which lead to an incident in Gauteng where taxi drivers torched an Uber to ashes. The competition between the two is being measured as being skewed and it is said that these services bring much more benefits to commuters, as they now don’t have to wait for transportation in over crowded taxi ranks in order to secure their space in the business. Seemingly, the minibus taxi industry has no limited accommodation for completion because not so long ago when the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system was introduced in (to be monitored by) municipalities almost a decade ago, there was a series of violent protests in “defence of the taxi industry” 

Government and subsidies

In May 2017, some national assembly members called for taxi industry subsidies during the Department of Transport’s Budget Vote. Their argument was that there is a “skewed allocation of subsidies” in the land transport industry by government with the taxi industry being unfairly excluded. Chairperson of the transport portfolio committee in parliament had said that it is unfair that only the Gautrain, metrorail and the BRT system (competitors of the taxi industry) were being subsidised yet the taxi business is the one being utilised the most by the public as a daily means of transportation.

MP’s from different parties also contributed to the debate. The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Thilivhani Mulaudzi said “Bus transport is currently the biggest beneficiary of government subsidies with 48 per cent, followed by Metrorail, Gautrain and the BRT. This benefits mainly transport used by middle-class South Africans and there is no measurement of how these subsidies benefit users. Taxis, which are used by the majority of South Africans for their daily transport, do not receive any subsidies,”

National Freedom Party’s Maliyakhe Shembe was quoted saying “We believe that the taxi industry should long ago have been taken into consideration for proactive intervention and subsidies, not only because of the high number of passengers are conveyed in this sector, but also to alleviate the often deadly competition for access to routes, which often flares up as so-called ‘taxi wars’.”

In a press conference held on the 09 July 2017, Minister of Transport was quoted The Citizen newspaper saying “Up front, we would like to indicate that we agreed with the industry to put on hold the planned strike for July 12 to allow for further engagement on issues that SANTACO brought to the attention of government.

“Both government and SANTACO agreed to work together to confront challenges that the taxi industry continue to experience on a daily basis as clearly articulated in the meeting,”

This meeting follows a major protest by the members if the taxi industry in Gauteng. The strike was to have been caused by the lack of government subsidy by the government for the taxi business.

“As government, we note the frustration that the taxi industry is experiencing with regards to accessing finance,” said Minister Masangwayi. 

Taxes and Charity work

According to SANTACO, there are 200,000 minibus taxis in South Africa. These taxis generate more than R90 billion every year without government funding (Unregulated statistics). This is proof that the minibus taxi industry is a major role player in the South African economy.

With most of this business coming from the poor and working class communities, it is vital that the taxi industry gives back to the community to appreciate the unwavering support but unfortunately, we do not see this happening quite often. From “dodging” taxes and e-tolls, to fighting for government subsidies – the taxi industry (drivers and owners) need to start contributing to the community regardless of whether or not they are the most easily accessible modes of transportation in many communities. The socio-economic transformation in our country is the responsibility of all citizens especially those in the high-ranking (capital) businesses.

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