Level 3 – the return of rush hour

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula. (Photo: GCIS/Kopano Tlape)

Transport takes centre stage this week as South Africa moves to Level 3 lockdown, with many more people heading back to work. While buses and taxis resume services, albeit with restrictions and precautions in place, one of the country’s biggest movers of people – trains – will only be running from 1 July. 

As much of the country’s workforce returns to work under Level 3 lockdown regulations from Monday, 1 June, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced new regulations for the transportation industry at the weekend. Saying that a “cautious approach” had been adopted, he warned: “we must maintain a delicate balance between enabling mobility and arresting the spread of the virus”. 

By Saturday 30 May, South Africa had 30,967 confirmed Covid-19 cases. Now, with people heading back to the office this week, there are fears that the country could see a sharp increase in cases.

Addressing the media, Mbalula said, “As the country moves to Level 3, with more industries resuming operations and learners returning to school, the transport sector must be responsive to enable mobility of both workers and learners.” Regulations specific to public transport include: 

  • Taxis will resume operations at all hours, but the 70% loading capacity specified under Levels 4 and 5 remain in place.
  • Buses are allowed to operate at a 50% capacity – which includes standing passengers.
  • E-hailing and metered cab services are allowed to operate at 50% capacity.

On Sunday, the City of Cape Town said bus services such as MyCiti and Golden Arrow will operate at 50% capacity. 

“We are working around the clock to ensure that the MyCiTi buses, stations and facilities are continuously cleaned and sanitised. We have also implemented measures at public transport facilities to make it easier for commuters to adhere to social distancing,” said Mayco member for Transport, Felicity Purchase, on Sunday. 

These measures include painting lines for physical distancing at places where commuters wait before boarding taxis. The City also said the MyCiti route to Cape Town International Airport would not operate yet.

Mbalula said, “With the increase in the number of people returning to work and learners and students returning to institutions of learning, long-distance public transport crossing provincial, metropolitan or district boundaries is permitted to operate.” 

While the minister made reference to learners heading back to school this week, he gave no specific details as to how scholar transport would be allowed to operate. There remains uncertainty about the reopening of schools, and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is due to shed light on the situation. 

Air travel

On Saturday, Mbalula said air travel will be open only for domestic business travel. Air travel – not allowed under Levels 4 and 5 – will have flight restrictions and “authorisation based on the reason for travel”. 

At airports themselves, Mbalula said no passengers will be allowed inside terminal buildings without masks, and only passengers are allowed to be in terminal buildings. This means members of the public are only allowed to drop off passengers, and not accompany them inside buildings. Temperature screenings will be done at terminal building entrances, before passengers are allowed entry into the building. 

“All the airports will have markings on the floor for social distancing of 1.5 metres. This will be applicable at check-in counters, security checkpoints and airport lounges… all airline check-in agents will wear face shields and the counters will be installed with protective screens. Check-in counters will also be frequently sanitised,” said Mbalula. 

In the first phase of domestic air travel, OR Tambo, King Shaka, Lanseria and Cape Town International will be open for commercial flights. In the second phase, airports such as Kruger Mpumalanga, Polokwane and Bram Fischer would be operational. In the third phase of commercial air travel, smaller airports such as Kimberley, Upington, East London, Umtata and Port Elizabeth would be opened for commercial flights. 

Train services

Under Levels 4 and 5,  rail operations were shut down, but revised dates for trains to be operational will be 1 July, said the minister.

Previously, Daily Maverick reported there were plans to allow limited services under Level 4 lockdown restrictions, but this was scrapped by Mbalula’s office following examinations of these plans. 

Mbalula confirmed that Pienaarspoort line in Gauteng, the southern line in the Western Cape, Berlin to East London and the Port Elizabeth to Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape would be opened for limited service. 

The minister was quick to stress, “through our ongoing engagements and evaluation of Prasa’s state of readiness to resume operations, we have concluded that Prasa is not ready to resume with the Metrorail commuter service. We continue to work closely with Prasa in assessing each line and put measures in place to achieve an acceptable level of readiness”. 

Previously, Prasa administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo said the rail agency would only make announcements on operations once Mbalula has made new transport directives. 

Testing centres

Also opening from Monday are all drivers’ licence testing centres, vehicle testing centres and provincial regulatory entities “subject to strict application of health norms and standards”.

Other services

Private vehicles like lift clubs are allowed, subject to the same regulations as cars, i.e. at 50% capacity. This would mean if your car takes four passengers, only two people would be allowed in the car. 

Passenger cruises, under maritime transport, remain banned – only cargo vessels are allowed under Level 3. DM


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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