TRANSPORT STRIFE: EXPLAINER
Why Santaco views taxi strike as more than just a fight against a new City of Cape Town by-law
SA National Taxi Council members went on strike primarily in response to a new City of Cape Town by-law, which has led to large numbers of taxis being impounded. But the industry and government in Western Cape have long been in conflict over the taxi sector’s role.
Since Thursday, the City of Cape Town has been engulfed by violence with the loss of at least four lives. South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) members in the Western Cape went on strike on Thursday over what it called “frivolous [taxi] impoundment operations by the government”.
The strike will last until Wednesday, 9 August, said Santaco.
While the focal point of the strike was the City of Cape Town’s new traffic by-law, which came into effect in July, the relationship between Santaco and the municipality has long been hostile.
Santaco believes that the city does not recognise the industry as a business that is providing valuable public transport services in areas where the government is failing to do so.
What exactly is the new traffic by-law?
Under the National Road Traffic Act of 1996, a driver who is not carrying their licence is given a fine and allowed to go. But under the new traffic by-law, drivers get a fine for not carrying their licence and, in addition, their vehicle is impounded.
Other offences that now result in both a fine and a vehicle being impounded include missing number plates or not having number plates securely fixed in place, unroadworthy vehicles, vehicles with defective lights, or vehicles that aren’t up to original SABS specifications and have been illegally modified.
The by-law also covers participating in illegal street racing.
“With the harsh action intended to bring about lasting reform, the amended traffic by-law is the long-awaited answer to the majority of lawful motorists who long to see an improvement in road safety,” explained JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security.
He said the city had been impounding between 900 and 1,200 taxis a month for more than a year.
Santaco claims that the by-law is specifically designed to target the taxi industry, which Smith denies.
“It must be noted that since the beginning of the year, 6,000 taxis have been impounded, which amounts to 1,000 taxis a month,” said Mandla Hermanus, Santaco’s Western Cape chairperson.
“The numbers mentioned above paint a very clear picture of what we as the taxi industry have been saying all along: these operations are nothing more than a deliberate attempt to destroy the taxi industry in the province with no regard to the impact that this action will have on the communities that we service.”
Santaco’s demands include:
- A moratorium on the Conditions of Operations on the Operating Licences, the city’s regulatory process that manages taxi permits, while Santaco returns to the Minibus Task Team.
- That the city releases a schedule of tables for fineable offences and offences that lead to vehicles being impounded, with a clear distinction between the two.
- Dedicated bus lanes must be extended to taxis and monitored, as they are for the MyCiTi bus service. Cones would be acceptable in the interim.
- Out-of-bounds routes should be clearly defined so taxi drivers know where they are not allowed to operate.
- For the city to reconsider impoundments for obstruction, as there are a limited number of stopping bays for taxis.
- Reduced impoundment fee amounts, in line with other provinces.
- The Traffic Court in Green Point must simplify the release process from Ndabeni, where vehicles are impounded.
- The opening and closing times of the Traffic Court must be extended.
- Vehicles must be released before “paying warrants”.
- Before paying the fine, allow the vehicle to be released on payment of impoundment fees, allowing the operator to defend him or herself in court.
The City of Cape Town and the Western Cape government have offered to cease impoundments for minor infringements but want more discussions on the issue of permits. They also committed to release vehicles impounded for minor infringements under the new by-law.
Santaco, according to sources at the negotiations, wants to go further and have taxis that were impounded for serious infringements released.
The parties do not seem to agree on taxis having dedicated lanes.
Regarding the issue of permits, there are many areas that have been developed in Cape Town with no public transport routes established. Santaco members operate in these areas without permits and when stopped by officials they are fined. This is despite the fact that there are no other available transport options for commuters.
Santaco is challenging the by-law in court and the matter is due to be heard in February 2024.
Biggest public transporter
The taxi industry is the biggest public transporter of people in South Africa and completes an estimated 1.5 million passenger trips per day in the Western Cape alone, with approximately 15 million per day across the country.
Bus services MyCiTi and Golden Arrow transport a fraction of those numbers yet get the lion’s share of government subsidies in the province. Golden Arrow is reportedly receiving about R1.1-billion in the 2022/23 financial year. MyCiTi gets R1.3-billion from the Public Transport Network Grant and Go-George receives R191-million.
MyCiTi shut down routes after fuel price increases last year, but the taxi industry did not do so despite not being subsidised.
The reason given for the taxi industry not being subsidised by provincial and national governments is that the industry is not formalised.
Blue Dot disappointment
In late 2020, the Western Cape government initiated the Blue Dot pilot project, the first of its kind in South Africa.
Hailed as a game-changer, the project rewarded drivers by analysing the data from onboard trackers fitted to participating vehicles, monitoring routes and considering feedback from passengers and other members of the public. On-board Wi-Fi allowed passengers to rate drivers and their service.
It was also seen as a way to formalise the minibus taxi industry, enabling it to be subsidised by the government. But the project, which had been seen as a success, ceased operations on 30 November last year because of a lack of funding. DM