Sanitiser everywhere, but some taxi passengers just don't follow the rules
At Bree taxi rank in Newtown, Johannesburg, a cacophony of engines and hooting drowns out the green-masked marshals enforcing social distancing.
Armed with hand sanitiser, the marshals instruct passengers to stand on the makeshift white painted lines and spray their hands before allowing them to get in the taxi.
On Thursday morning at 7am when TimesLIVE visited the taxi rank, the clinking of coins and baritone voices yelling “sanitiza, sanitiza, ten, ten” are almost in unison with the blaring music coming from every taxi.
Data capturer Luzhaandre Mackenzie, 24, from Eldorado Park, south of Johannesburg, said people wore their masks while they waited, but took them off inside the taxi.
“I don’t really feel safe but I don’t have a choice, I have to use public transport to get to work.”
Drivers, marshals and passengers all wore face masks, except for domestic worker Lebo Mohlana, 37, who said she forgot her mask at home. She was still allowed to board.
When the marshal spotted Thanks Mutegude, 37, in a wheelchair, she was moved to the front of the queue for the trip to Cresta to collect her disability grant.
When TimesLIVE was there, no taxis were being sanitised before passengers got into the vehicles. While all drivers wore masks and marshals sanitised passengers' hands before they entered, they seldom sanitised the drivers’ hands.
Queue marshals also had their hands full at MTN (Noord) taxi rank on Wednesday. Daniel Mathebula said it was a daily struggle.
“By now everyone should know that they need to stand on the lines and not come close to each other, but they simply don’t,” he said.
On the Alexandra/Sunninghill route, taxi owner Eric Ntanzi assisted in the mornings with controlling queues and making sure that sanitiser never runs out.
Commuter Mamiki Nkosi travels with a small bottle of sanitiser in her bag. “We exchange money in the taxi and use the same door handle, so I have to be careful.”
There is also a big sanitising station at the front of the taxi rank, but taxi driver Muzi Mhlanga said it was difficult for passengers to use it as there were many entry and exit points.
Meanwhile, Western Cape transport authorities have been inundated with calls from frantic commuters reporting taxi drivers carrying more passengers than the stipulated 70% during the lockdown.
Some passengers have been complaining about the drivers not wearing masks and failing to provide passengers with sanitiser. Transport MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela visited the Nyanga taxi rank on Thursday morning after receiving a slew of complaints from passengers.
He said his department gave commuters a telephone number to report transgressions when the lockdown started — and it has been ringing off the hook.
“We need to emphasise that even under level 3 (of the lockdown), taxis must still load 70% of passengers, e-hailing vehicles must load 50% of passengers and buses must load 50% of passengers,” said Madikizela.
“What we are suspecting as the transport department is that people load the required number of passengers and then along the way they stop and load other people. That is why we have been giving out these pamphlets with this number so that people can send us an SMS and report those who are not complying,” he said.
Most passengers take taxis from the Nyanga taxi rank to different parts of the city for work. Yvonne Ndlela waited 30 minutes in Delft to catch a taxi to the Bellville taxi rank. She confirmed Madikizela’s suspicion.
“The driver loaded nine people at the rank and then filled up the taxi along the way,” Ndlela said.
“The taxi was full when we got here. At least the driver gave us sanitiser, and everyone wore a mask.
“Things were different when we were at level 5, the drivers’ behaviour started to change when we got to level 4. I worry about my health every day but I have to take a taxi to work, I have no choice.”
But Nkululeko Ndaba had a pleasant experience. “I did not go to the Nyanga taxi rank. The taxi picked me up on the main road, I think I stood there for about four minutes. The driver adhered to the required 70% load. Passengers wore masks and we were offered sanitiser.”
At Cape Town station, Phiwekazi Sofeke hopped off a taxi from Delft. She waited for about 30 minutes at the Delft taxi rank before she got onto a taxi to the city.
“We were about 10 passengers in the taxi,” she said. “I had my own sanitiser and so did other passengers. I didn’t bother to check if the driver had sanitiser or not. Everyone in the taxi, including the driver, had a mask on.
“I have been working since level 4 and I haven’t noticed any transgressions. I am not sure about other taxi routes. But it could be that the drivers on this route are complying because traffic officers constantly monitor it.”
In the sea of unrecognisable masked faces at the busy KwaDukuza taxi rank, north of Durban, none stands out like that of taxi driver Kiss Ngcobo who, for the past six years, has been driving his taxi in all white.
“I dress up for work because taxi drivers have a bad reputation for their hygiene and that they don’t love themselves and wear wrinkled clothes and they smell. I decided to change this perception and grow our industry by wearing clean and ironed clothes,” said Ngcobo.
“It’s hard to work under lockdown because of the limited number of passengers we can carry. We are just doing this for the community because the owners and drivers aren’t getting much. Working with people is difficult because when you ask people to put on masks they refuse and no-one is allowed in the taxi without a mask on,” said Ngcobo.
“Everything has been fine so far the drivers and passengers have been adhering to the rules. The problem with putting on masks started when alcohol started [when alcohol sales resumed] because some drunk people don't listen but we make sure they don’t get onto the taxi without a mask,” said Mandlenkosi Luthuli, a rank manager.
At Umhlanga rank, located in Durban’s busy Warwick Junction, 60-year-old Delisile Msibi and her daughter Lungile avoid sitting next to people who don't have proper masks.
“I am very afraid of this disease and I get very irritated when I see people in the taxi taking off their masks when they know very well that we are supposed to keep them on,” said Msibi. “Yes it is said that this virus is going to kill us, but if death comes can it come while we at least tried to protect ourselves, “ she added.
In Empangeni, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, hundreds of commuters brush shoulders as they sweep past each other, scrambling to get into their taxi.
Nelisiwe Sikombo, 43, whose mask rests below her mouth, said she had travelled from Ngwelezane to buy groceries.
“I'm just waiting until it's almost a full load, then I will put on my mask, it's hard to breathe with it.”
She said virus or no virus, her life had to continue.
Ntokozo Masuku, 31, the rank manager, said drivers were hard on people who did not adhere to regulations.
Donning an industrial anti-dust respirator mask, taxi driver Sam Mpanza, 43, waited patiently for his taxi to fill up.
“I do one load per day from Empangeni to Durban — they must wear masks. Look at my mask, it will tell you that I'm not here to play games,” he said.