How road travel will work under the Covid-19 lockdown

25 March 2020 - 21:21
Minibus taxis will only be allowed to operate over limited hours during South Africa's 21-day Covid-19 lockdown.
Minibus taxis will only be allowed to operate over limited hours during South Africa's 21-day Covid-19 lockdown.
Image: Waldo Swiegers

Minister of transport Fikile Mbalula detailed travel implications for citizens as the nation prepares to enter a 21-day Covid-19 lockdown, taking effect from Thursday at midnight.

Speaking at an inter-ministerial briefing on Wednesday afternoon, he said the measures instituted by his department are in line with the injunction by President Cyril Ramaphosa, that “provision will be made for essential transport services to continue”.

In terms of public transport by road, Mbalula said minibus taxis, metered taxis and e-hailing vehicles will continue giving mobility to “essential-services workers and those allowed to make the necessary permitted movements”.

Strict provisos will govern their operation. “Transport movements in this regard will be allowed to operate from 5am to 9am and again from 4pm to 8pm.”

Sanitisation after each journey will be required by operators. Addressing minibus taxis specifically, the minister stated precautions must be taken to ensure social distancing is adhered to. However, there was no stipulation of the maximum number of occupants these vehicles would be allowed to transport.

Owners whose vehicles are under the National Taxi Finance programme rolled out by the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (Sefa) can expect a three-month repayment holiday, according to the minister.

The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) expressed its reservations to TimesLIVE Motoring.

The majority of our operators are not financed through that scheme, so there is little relief,” said spokesperson Thabisho Molelekwa during a telephonic conversation.

He said the new conditions under which members would operate are anticipated to yield earnings amounting to a fraction of the usual, fearing that drivers as well as queue marshals would bear the brunt.

“We appreciate the effort, but not much has been done. Operators still do not have the comfort and assurance that when the end of the month comes and repayments cannot be met, banks will understand.”

But Molelekwa said cooperation from the organisation would be ensured. “Our attitude is not to antagonise government and their efforts to curb the virus. We as Santaco call on our members to support the announcement made by the minister. The problems facing the country are bigger than the issues we are facing,” he said.

However, he warned that the problem would not be solved after the lockdown. “Beyond 21 days, we may be coming back to a country with no workforce, a country whose socio-economic issues have escalated.”

When asked about what the ideal number of passengers would be for safe social distances, Molelekwa said seven would be within parameters, concluding that “a minibus taxi generally takes 14 people”.

In the categories of metered taxis and e-hailing services, Mbalula outlined that “A vehicle licensed to carry up to four people will only be permitted to load one person, a vehicle licensed to carry up to eight passengers will only be permitted to load a maximum of three passengers,” adding that sanitisers used must have a minimum 60% alcohol content.

While the minister explained that “limited bus operations would be allowed”, it was not specified whether the mode would adhere to the same hours as its minibus taxi and e-hailing vehicle counterparts.

Public transport vehicles with a load capacity of four passengers, such as most Uber vehicles, will be limited to one passenger, apart from the driver. This also applies to private vehicles, which means that a standard car will be limited to two occupants. 

He confirmed that vehicle testing centres and drivers’ licence testing centres (DLTCs) would be closed. “Should your driver's licence expire during the duration of the lockdown, it shall be deemed to remain valid until the end of the lockdown, with the grace period of renewal within 14 working days thereafter unless otherwise determined,” he said.

Meanwhile, traffic enforcement and personnel responsible for the clearing of accidents, maintenance and other road operations functions will be run on a skeleton staff. Although road passenger movements across borders will be prohibited, freight movement for essential goods will continue.