The taxi industry had been reeling under the negative effects of the national lockdown since it was declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the end of March. The Free State Weekly’s Thapelo Molebatsi this week spoke to the president of the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco), Phillip Taaibosch, about how the lockdown has affected the operations of the taxi industry and how the regulations are limiting taxi operators’ ability to operate and make ends meet.
Have the SA National Taxi Council’s plans to shut down the taxi industry been cancelled?
We’ve met with Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula, and had a lengthy discussion about the matter. We’ve agreed to put things on hold as we try to find a solution to problems affecting the industry.
Was the shutdown only meant for Gauteng, or it was it nationwide issue?
Look, someone always has to lead from the front; Gauteng was a starting point. The taxi industry whether it’s here in Gauteng or Free State my hometown, the impact is the same. This includes all the other provinces as well, which is why we speak for the national association, not for the Gauteng taxi association. This is an inclusive body for the entire taxi industry.
What sparked the idea of embarking on national shutdown?
You would know that since the onset of the lockdown the taxi industry has been operating at a loss. At 70% passenger capacity, we are not making a profit. Taxi operators were losing money to the point that if we had not moved to 70% capacity, they would have had to stop operating completely.
How badly did the imposed capacity restrictions hinder the association operations?
During the first phase of the national lockdown, taxi operators could only operate at 50% passenger capacity, which resulted in only 10% of the total fleet of taxis working. This meant that over 220 000 taxis across the country were parked at home as they could only make one trip a day as opposed to making five or six trips a day.
Some of your members in some parts of the country have hinted at a price increase to make up for the loss encountered and projected future earnings. Is this true?
It will not be fair to discuss rumours. The idea of a national fair increase is something that has not been discussed and therefore to speak on it will not make sense.
But this is not a rumour. In the Free State, though the position is not official, this discussion has been gaining momentum. It’s already in the public domain that the Alexandra Taxi Association proposed a fare increase of 172%. Surely this is not a rumour!
I deliberately wanted to shy away from this because it’s not a national position. However, certainly, this will be unrealistic to expect already cash-strapped passengers to afford such an increase. The increase was never practical, as much as the taxi industry is hardest hit, there are equally hard-hit people by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Does this suggest the increase has been ruled out completely?
A fare increase has not been ruled out completely. This is an ongoing discussion among ourselves and once an official decision has been reached it will be pronounced accordingly.
The industry was provided with relief so what reason could be there for a fare increase in the future?
People must understand that although the government has increased operating hours, taxis are still operating at only 70% capacity. The taxis need to be serviced and banks also want their money. The relief referred to was only provided for three months. All of these decisions led to the proposed 172% taxi fare increase referred to earlier.
The National Taxi Alliance (NTA) and Santaco met with transport minister Fikile Mbalula. What was the meeting all about?
The obvious. We expressed our concerns about the issue of financial assistance. We requested that government revisits the long-distance operations and the 70% loading capacity.
With the long-distance operations being opened again, surely you would agree that the meeting had a positive outcome.
The meeting was fruitful. We managed to get long-distance services back in operation. That for us is a positive outcome that we draw from the meeting.
What other positive outcomes came out of the meeting?
There were several but these will be made public by the transport minister in due course. What’s important is that we were able to engage each other on various issues and to finally find each other. A conversation was needed and I can safely say we found common ground on all issues presented by relevant stakeholders in the taxi industry.