Taxi industry now wants extra relief for cross-border and long-distance operators
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula should approach the Treasury for a “special” relief package for long-distance and cross-border taxi operators who were hit hardest by the lockdown, the National Taxi Alliance (NTA) said.
This is on top of the R1.14bn the government has already offered the industry in Covid-19 relief funding.
While local taxis were allowed to operate at set times and at 70% capacity from level 5 down to level 3, their interprovincial counterparts were grounded in conformity with a ban on travel across provinces. The cross-border operators are still grounded as SA’s borders are still closed.
The unregulated taxi industry is yet to accept the R1.14bn relief fund, rejecting the stringent conditions attached to it. The conditions are aimed at formalising the sector. The industry said the relief was too little compared to the losses the sector incurred during the lockdown.
Should the compensation request for cross-border and long-distance operators be granted by the Treasury, it could run into billions of rand, said NTA national spokesperson Theo Malele. The NTA is the second-largest taxi association in SA.
Malele told Business Day on Monday that cross-border operators were the most affected by the national lockdown. “They are facing extinction because they have not been operating since lockdown [started],” he said, adding that interprovincial operators could not sustain their operations on the 70% loading capacity.
“We have not done the calculations yet but [taxi] associations will have to assist in ascertaining the actual rand value loss per taxi,” Malele said.
In June about 45,000 taxi operators abandoned their vehicles, intimidated fellow motorists and blocked highways, leaving commuters and workers across Gauteng stranded, demanding that the relief fund for the sector be increased. But Mbalula put his foot down, saying increasing the amount was “simply not an option”.
Efficient Group chief economist Dawie Roodt said should Mbalula consider the proposal, finance minister Tito Mboweni would have to go to parliament and request the money. “But there is simply no money at the moment. It’s finished,” said Roodt.
“If you assist the taxi industry, what about the others [industries]. It appears the [taxi] industry has got some special privileges — why is that so? They seem to be a law unto themselves,” he said.
Malele said they also wanted Mbalula to “urgently” set up a committee to look at the modalities of resuming long-distance and cross-border operations at 100% loading capacity.
The Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for say.
Malele said the cross-border and interprovincial operators “have not only lost livelihoods, but are on the verge of losing their taxis to the financial institutions”.
Mbalula, however, has said he had engaged financial institutions to extend their repayment holidays for minibus taxi operators to ease their financial obligations.
Minibus taxis are permitted to carry a full load of passengers for short trips and 70% occupancy for long-distance journeys, on condition that “new risk mitigation protocols” related to masks, vehicle sanitising and open windows are followed.
Trade unions have criticised the decision by the government as “reckless” and threatened to go on strike over the concession.
Malele said they had noted concerns raised by trade unions and civil society organisations over the 100% loading capacity issue, saying they would welcome “direct engagements” with the concerned parties to find lasting solutions.