The SA National Taxi Council (Santaco), SA’s largest taxi organisation, says its members are ready to resume long-distance operations, despite fears that this could lead to more Covid-19 cases.
This comes as the National Taxi Alliance (NTA), SA’s second-largest taxi organisation, on Saturday met transport minister Fikile Mbalula, health minister Zweli Mkhize and ministerial advisory committee chair Salim Abdool Karim to also request a return to 100% loading capacity for both local and long-distance taxis.
If approved it could hasten the spread of Covid-19 as there are concerns about social distancing in the minibus taxis.
Santaco spokesperson Thabiso Molelekwa told Business Day on Monday: “Our submission to the NCCC [national coronavirus command council] is clear and straightforward. We have requested 100% loading capacity for both local and long-distance taxis.”
For local operations, queue marshals must ensure all commuters wear face masks and that passengers and taxis are sanitised. If a passengers shows signs of illness, such as repeatedly coughing or sneezing “the driver is compelled to return the passenger to the rank”, to go to a nearest clinic for screening.
Molelekwa said taxis will adhere to requirements and have their details recorded as part of government’s Covid-19 tracking and tracing programme.
NTA spokesperson Theo Malele said their presentation centred on preventing the spread of Covid-19 in 100% loading capacity.
“Experts came with well-thought practical initiatives we believe will balance taxi operations’ continuity and curbing the spread of the deadly coronavirus,” said Malele. However, he would not be drawn on what their submissions were to the council. “We are not at liberty to disclose the details at this stage in fear of playing [into] the hands of the taxi industry’s detractors who are making strong submissions against [it].
“Until ruled otherwise, we believe that we have made a compelling case for the NCCC to rule in favour of 100% loading capacity,” said Malele, adding they expect a “final announcement” on the issues raised on Wednesday.
The taxi industry is among sectors most heavily affected by the Covid-19 national lockdown. Taxis have been allowed 70% loading capacity for social distancing, while interprovincial and cross-border operations were prohibited since the lockdown was introduced in March.
However, in June the taxi industry associations including Santaco and NTA deliberately breached the regulations by reverting to 100% loading capacity for both local and long-distance operations as well as resuming interprovincial travel.
The taxi operators’ break with the regulations was seen as part of their growing frustrations over the R1.14bn Covid-19 relief fund, which they have dismissed as insufficient compared with the losses operators have incurred during the lockdown.
Taxi operators are unhappy with the stringent conditions attached to the relief fund, which include that taxi operations be formally registered as businesses and must have a bank account into which the relief allowance will be paid.
Among other things, the conditions state that these businesses should be registered for income tax and other applicable taxes related to running a business. They also call for registration of employees with the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the Compensation Commission and for the skills development levy.
The taxi industry transports about 16.5-million passengers a day and contributes about R40bn a year to the fiscus.