Daily Maverick

War talk: Taxi operators threaten authorities over impounded vehicles

Daily Maverick Archive Photo: Police officers stand guard during a protest by taxi operators in Gauteng.

Taxi operators in the Alexandra area have threatened the JMPD (Johannesburg Metro Police Department) and government with a total shutdown after hundreds of faulty taxis were taken off the road in an ongoing operation which began early this year.

On Monday, all taxi services around the Alexandra and Sandton areas of Johannesburg were shut down. The reason for the shutdown stems from taxi operators’ annoyance at the Johannesburg Metro Police Department’s decision to impound hundreds of their taxis.

The JMPD rounded up 500 unroadworthy taxis in its ongoing operation Buya Mthetho: “The taxis were found to be in a very poor condition, most were unroadworthy with licence discs which had expired in 2012. Some had discs (showing) dishwasher repairs or newspaper clippings,” the JMPD said in a statement.

The JMPD said the drivers were stopped either because they were in the emergency lane or ignoring road traffic markings and regulations.

On Monday a group of taxi bosses affiliated to about a dozen taxi associations handed a memorandum to the JMPD, objecting to the impounding of their vehicles and seeking an audience with the JMPD and Minister of Transport.

The JMPD was given seven days to respond.

Taxi bosses accused the JMPD of deliberately victimising taxi operations.

The strike badly affected traffic flow in Sandton, Midrand, Modderfontein and Alexandra.

Taxi bosses accused the JMPD of a “senseless campaign” to put them out of business. They wanted to engage the JMPD and did not acknowledge that some vehicles, which are responsible for transporting the public daily, were in poor condition.

Faulty, non-compliant vehicles and poorly behaved drivers are a risk on the road, hence the familiar nickname “moving coffins”.

Taxi operators refused to return to work on Monday afternoon and asked commuters to make alternative arrangements. They said the continued impounding of their vehicles was an “invitation to war”. Some also questioned the timing of the metro police operation in light of petrol hikes and the rising cost of living.

The sole aim of this operation is to see us out of business. We have families to feed and taking our vehicles from us is hardly the solution. We are prepared to engage but we are totally against taking away our vehicles because that is taking bread from our families’ tables. They don’t want to listen to grievances of the taxi industry,” said taxi operator Ndu Ndlangamandla.

“If they are declaring war, we are ready for war. We don’t steal from anyone. Why are we being persecuted?” another taxi operator from Alexandra asked.

Gauteng has seen a number of incidents of taxi violence, some of them leading to fatalities. In April, four taxi drivers were killed in taxi violence in Johannesburg.

The taxi operators called on the government to do more to help rather than persecute them.

In a statement, the Alexandra Taxi Association said it wanted to get the attention of the Minister of Transport, Blade Nzimande, concerning the ill-treatment the taxi industry was subjected to by the government. The striking taxi associations also objected to the surging petrol prices and removal of their vehicles’ licence discs.

A taxi boss from the Alexandra Taxi Association who asked to be identified only by his second name, Hadebe, accused the government of using a strong arm against the taxi industry while, he said, other transportation services were treated with kid gloves.

Why are we the only ones subjected to roadworthiness tests? When will the government do the same to Rea Vaya? Why isn’t the Metro Police Department doing the same to metered taxis because we all transport the public? We will fight to the bitter end to defend the little bread on our families’ tables,” Hadebe said.

Another taxi boss from Randburg said the government was refusing to fully acknowledge the good work that the taxi industry was doing in transporting the public. He said the government constantly hiked prices on all commodities but had failed to come up with contingency plans for the taxi industry.

We are treated like outcasts in the transportation industry yet so much depends on our co-operation as taxis,” he said.

When asked about the grounds on which they were disputing the JMPD’s road-worthiness policy, the taxi operators said they were looking for a compromise. When asked if a compromise under the current conditions was that their vehicles would not be perilous to the lives of commuters, they said commuter safety was their main concern.

However, taxi operators insisted that the same taxis be allowed back on the road pending negotiations.

When asked if their demands for the return of their vehicles did not amount to disregard for customer safety, a number of taxi operators said commuters needed them. They said the emphasis placed on their vehicles’ safety standards was unfair because the JMPD does not understand their operations.

Responding to claims by taxi operators that they were being victimised, Public Safety MMC Michael Sun said public safety was paramount. Some taxis were not only in a poor condition but also overloaded.

He dismissed claims that taxi operators were being persecuted unfairly. “We need to take the safety of our commuters into account, and we will not back down to threats of intimidation,” he said.

A number of incidents of intimidation of other drivers who tried to help stranded commuters were reported in areas in Alexandra. Violent activity related to the strike was also reported in others.

Apart from the impounding of their vehicles, taxi operators said while they were concerned about the effect of fare increases on their customers, the rise in the petrol price had left them with no other option.

Hadebe, who has been in the taxi industry for almost a decade, said a few years ago he was able to afford an R10,000 a month instalment for one of his vehicles, but now he struggled to make half the instalment.

Taxi operators assured commuters that taxis would be running normally again from next week. For now, they await the lapse of the seven-day ultimatum they set the JMPD and government.

The JMPD said the aim of their operation was to ensure road safety and restore law and order.

“We will not surrender to lawlessness. Illegal and non-compliant and irresponsible operators cannot expect us to look away while they play with the lives of commuters and other motorists on the road. We will certainly not be bullied into submission by individuals who promote lawless conduct and behaviour.

We invite the operators affected to engage with us in a mature and professional manner, and it is in the interest of everyone to find a sustainable solution,” Sun said. DM

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