'They are crazy': some taxi drivers flout rules on fewer passengers in Joburg

27 March 2020 - 13:21
By Nonkululeko Njilo and Shonisani Tshikalange
Phumulomg Taxi Rank in Atteridgeville on Friday, March 27 2020.
Image: Shonisani Chikalange Phumulomg Taxi Rank in Atteridgeville on Friday, March 27 2020.

As the country entered day one of the 21-day nationwide lockdown on Friday, it was “business as usual” for some taxi drivers who crammed in passengers in Johannesburg.

This was particularly prevalent in Bara taxi rank in the morning — taxis hooted and formed long queues to load essential workers to various destinations — which is permitted provided the vehicles carry fewer passengers than usual.  

A taxi driver operating between Pimville and Joburg CBD said if he could not take a full load of passengers, he would rather stay home.

“They are crazy, if they were serious about shutting down the country, they would have provided means of transport for the people who must go to work. I can’t have seven people in a taxi, that is running at a loss ... if they insist, we will stop and go home,” he told TimesLIVE.  

In a single trip from the CBD, he said he made R225 during the lockdown of which R105 would “end up on petrol”. 

The driver, who asked not to be identified, said he and his colleagues had countless meetings with their taxi association but they proved to be fruitless.

“They told us to follow the law but could not give us answers in terms of how we will survive during the lockdown ... we decided to work as usual because we must provide at home,” he said.

SANTACO spokesperson Thabisho Molelekwa confirmed some taxis had been operating normally on Friday morning.  

“We are aware that some of our drivers intentionally disregarded the law at various taxi ranks,” he said.

Molelekwa said the chaos had been anticipated as the decision to suspend about 90% of minibus taxis was taken by department of transport.

“We were concerned from the word go. We anticipated this would happen because Santaco [SA National Taxi Council] now had to operate on guess work,” he said.

He said many drivers expressed frustration because operating taxis was their bread and butter.

In Atteridgville, Pretoria, it was not business as usual at Phumulong taxi rank. When TimesLIVE visited the usually busy rank, taxis were parked. It was a wait of more than 30 minutes until a full taxi departed.

Drivers were sitting about waiting for their turn to load passengers.

One of them, Katlego Ntlane, who takes passengers to Pretoria CBD, said he was ready to join the rest of the nation on lockdown if he continued to operate at a loss.

The 28-year-old said by 7:30am he had already lost R400 due to the new travelling arrangements.

“I just started to load people now. I came to the rank at six. On a normal day by seven o’clock, I would have already made two loads,” he said.

“We are running at a loss. If I fail to cope I will go join the rest who are on lockdown. We are losing a lot. Most of my passengers were security guards and six of them asked for my numbers so that I can come and pick them up when they knock off. They also showed me their permits,” he said.

Simon Mphahlele, rank manager at Phomolong, said so far they were coping, though there was a huge loss financially.

“We started to operate at 5am and estimating, so far, at least 30 taxis left to transport people,” he said.  

Mphahlele said it would have been more on a normal day.

The 58-year-old said he was dedicated to assisting the nation by helping people who were helping the country.

“Majority of people who are coming are working at shops. So we are taking them ... As a rank manager, I am dedicated to help people who are going to help the country in this time period. There are people who work at the shops, chemists and all the crucial places. If we don’t help them get there then we will be causing problems.”

Mphahlele said when drivers finished at 9am, they would have to return home to rest and come back at four to fetch people from work.

Santaco has since held a meeting with provincial law enforcement officials and urged drivers to comply with the law in taking half the usual number of passengers and taking precautionary measures to protect themselves and commuters.

Molelekwa urged passengers to hold drivers accountable in taking precautions before boarding taxis. If not, they were urged to report those drivers to allow the association to investigate.