Santaco, the umbrella body for taxi associations, has launched an investigation into taxi drivers who have drastically increased prices since the lockdown.
According to government regulations, during the lockdown taxis are only permitted to transport half of their usual load. But now to supplement the money lost as a result, taxi drivers have been charging commuters double the fare.
A trip from Braelyn to the East London city centre normally costs R11, but commuters are now being charged R26. Travelling from the city centre to Mdantsane cost R16 pre-lockdown, but now R32.
Taxi operators say it is not financially viable for them to carry half the number of passengers.
Braelyn taxi drivers on Tuesday downed tools, refusing to load only three passengers.
Speaking on conditions of anonymity, the drivers said it was pointless to take three passengers on a 10km route for “small change”.
“It does not make sense for the business we are in to continue taking passengers.”
Sicelo Potwa, 31, said paying double the amount was “daylight robbery”.
“Why should we be the ones suffering,” said Potwa.
Unathi Binqose, spokesperson for the Eastern Cape transport department, called on commuters to report such drivers. He said the matter would then be escalated to the national government for intervention. Overcharging of commuters in lockdown was happening countrywide, he added.
Taxis drivers associated with the East London Taxi Association (ELTA) are among those accused of inflating prices. ELTA chair Sixhinxo Donisa, alerted to the practice by commuters on Monday, vowed to act against those involved.
Santaco Eastern Cape chair Lungiswa Mabija said dumping the cost of social distancing onto commuters, who had no other transport options, “undermines us, as the umbrella body, and also the president’s call”.
“This is robbery. We cannot allow this to continue. If this does not end tomorrow [Wednesday], we will make sure that law enforcement is involved. Punishment will depend on the facts, but it should be harsh,” said Mabija
However, Santaco spokesperson Thabisho Molelekwa said taxis were now operating under protest.
“There was a general feeling from the industry that the government was not treating issues related to the taxi industry with sensitivity and priority. The operation structure that was implemented is not sustainable for 21 days for the people of the industry.
“This view has gained momentum across the country and has seen some not working‚ forcefully overloading or inflating prices‚” Molelekwa said. He added that the organisation was currently in talks with the presidency.
Ayanda Paine, spokesperson for national transport department, had not responded to questions on what measures were in place to subsidise the taxi industry during lockdown.