Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS #LOCKDOWN

Taxis at 70 percent capacity are now allowed – if all passengers wear surgical masks

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula. (Photo: Sune Payne)

The government was faced with intense pressure from the taxi industry to relax strict loading rules intended to combat the spread of Covid-19.

The government has backed down on attempts to rein in the taxi industry during the Covid-19 crisis and will now allow taxis to run at 70% loading capacity – as long as all passengers are issued with surgical N95 masks, which are costly and hard to come by.

The 70% capacity provision was a revision on an announcement made by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula a few hours earlier in the day that a 100% loading capacity would be allowed if protective measures were in place. 

Curbs on the number of passengers in taxis where masks are not issued will remain in place.

In a statement released on Wednesday night, the Transport Ministry said that the revision (on a revision) by the Minister from 100% to 70% – within the same day – had taken place after concerns were raised from the public. “After our announcement of catering for 100%, there was a public outcry about the impact of such an arrangement to the health safety of public transport users.  We took these issues seriously and engaged with key stakeholders, resulting in a consensus of maximising the loading capacity to 70%,” said the ministry statement.

It appealed to the taxi industry to accept the new measures, which would be published in due course for immediate implementation. 

The original regulations on COVID-19 lockdown had prescribed a 50% loading capacity. The regulations were relaxed after the industry, during consultations,  had raised concerns about operational losses.

Before the backtrack to 70%, Mbalula had announced to taxi drivers and commuters at the uncharacteristically quiet Noord Taxi Rank in downtown Johannesburg on Wednesday afternoon, that minibus taxis would now be allowed to fill their taxis to capacity, provided they provide N95 masks for passengers.

Said Mbalula, “In consulting with the taxi industry, I have engaged the leadership of the South African National Taxi Council [Santaco] and the National Taxi Alliance (NTA). I must commend the taxi industry for their efforts and commitment to playing their part in enabling mobility of the poor.”

He said, “They were unhappy with the prescribed operating hours and the limit to carry only seven passengers per trip.”

Mbalula said during the 21-day national lockdown, the following public transport vehicles must reduce the number of maximum passengers to 70% of the licensed capacity, with no masks:

“A minibus licensed to carry 10 passengers  is limited to carry a maximum of seven passengers, a minibus permitted to carry 15 passengers is limited to carry a maximum of 10 passengers.

“A minibus permitted to carry a maximum of 22 passengers is limited to carrying a maximum of 15 passengers, A vehicle licensed to carry a maximum of four passengers is limited to carry 50% of its passenger-carrying capacity.”

He added: “Alternatively, during the lockdown period all minibus and minibus taxi vehicles are permitted to load their maximum 100% passenger loading capacity as provided in their operating licences, provided they provide their passengers with masks.”

Under the revised revisions announced on Wednesday night, this provision is limited to 70% passenger loading capacity.

Mbalula told the crowd that taxi operators should provide their passengers with surgical masks.

“We have now extended [operating times] with one hour. Let me explain why. The people at home who don’t obey the regulations when we say stay apart, they say they need transport to go and buy goods.

“They say the shops open at nine o’clock and that that time coincides with the time taxis halt daily operations. We are giving everyone one-hour extra time to go and buy whatever they need from the supermarket. But ideally, taxis should not operate,” Mbalula said.

Reminding everyone who essential workers are, Mbalula said, “An essential worker is that person who works at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, an essential worker is the person who works at a supermarket, so that the supermarket is open so that you can get food.”

Mbalula stressed that the use of public transport was still prohibited.

It’s hard to know whether taxi operators will adhere to the latest amendments to the transport regulations, especially considering that some minibus taxis remain non-compliant and also the fact that the N95 masks are required by healthcare workers in the frontline of tackling the Coronavirus pandemic — and cost around R2,000 a box of 10, excluding VAT.

The taxi industry had been planning a strike against the transport regulations. Members were particularly concerned about the limited number of passengers they were allowed to carry. The strike was averted after a meeting on Monday 30 March 2020 between provincial leadership representatives and taxi associations.

Mbalula met Santaco on Tuesday after their threatened nationwide strike over the lockdown regulations. DM

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