'That is final' – Mbalula after changing taxi rules under Covid-19 lockdown

02 April 2020 - 09:28
Minister Fikile Mbalula says there will be no more changes to taxi rules under the Covid-19 lockdown.
Minister Fikile Mbalula says there will be no more changes to taxi rules under the Covid-19 lockdown.
Image: Brenwin Naidu

Minister of transport Fikile Mbalula said there would be no more “backwards and forwards” over regulations governing taxi operators under lockdown. He added that his latest declaration made on Wednesday was “final.”

This comes after an announcement yesterday that minibus taxis will be limited to a 70% passenger capacity, a U-turn following an earlier order that full loads would be permitted, if occupants wore masks. Speaking at Bree Taxi Rank in Johannesburg this morning, at a sanitisation activity demonstration, he warned the industry that those who undermined laws under the Covid-19 intervention measure could have their vehicles impounded.

He called on compliance from the taxi industry and stated that in addition to a sanitising programme that would become part of a daily routine at ranks, masks would be distributed to commuters. 

In his first address outlining transport guidelines during the 21-day lockdown, he said that a 50% capacity would be enforced and ordered that service must take place between 5am to 9am and again from 4pm to 8pm. That has since changed to 5am to 10am.

While the afternoon operating period remains the same, the department of transport confirmed there would be an hour's grace period extending to 9pm. After speaking to the media in attendance on Thursday morning, Mbalula, wearing latex gloves and a black overall, proceeded to show what the intended cleansing process entailed for minibus interiors.

“Before this vehicle could move, it must have been disinfected, this is what happens,” he narrated as he guided the spray gun over the seats and panels, with the tank of solution fixed to his back. “That 100% must be out, 70% is the way to go,” the minister added.

Meanwhile, spokesperson for the National Taxi Alliance, Theo Malele, expressed his approval of the steps taken by the department, while acknowledging recent grievances of the industry.

“We wanted to understand how our shortfalls are going to be compensated, we then realised with revenue in the country being insufficient, that we just have to bite the bullet and work with government, and make sure essential services people are carried from one point to the next.”

Malele said that drivers must adhere to the rules and that operators must support the efforts to curb the spread of the pandemic.

“Let us make sure that we protect our passengers, because they are our livelihood and if we do not take care of them, we may end up not having them.

“We also have to be mindful of the fact that running a taxi has costs, we need to cover those costs, we also have to appreciate that operators and drivers have to survive, so the 70% mark is welcomed.”

Professor Adriano Duse is the chief specialist, chair and academic head of the clinical microbiology and infectious diseases organisational unit at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is closely associated with the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS).

Speaking to TimesLIVE Motoring, Professor Duse, took cognisance of the proverbial “double-edged sword” faced by the government, in ensuring transportation and logistics were kept operational while ensuring precautions are taken to stymie the transmission of the coronavirus. His department had previously been asked to provide Covid-19 guidelines for taxi operators and responded by preparing a comprehensive dossier including information about how passengers should be protected.

Among the list of recommendations is preventing passengers from taking the front seat, keeping taxi windows open at all times, using alcohol-based sanitiser in the money console and cleaning the high touchpoints of the vehicle with a bleach solution daily.

Emphasising the importance of reduced occupancy in public transport vehicles during this time, he reiterated, “Crowding of people in a vehicle puts commuters at risk for infectious respiratory droplet aerosols from coughing or sneezing patients.”