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Minibus taxis critical to Cape Town’s effective functioning – government must work with the industry

Minibus taxis critical to Cape Town’s effective functioning – government must work with the industry
Minibus taxis blocking the road at the Airport Approach, Borcherds Quarry exit, are seized on Day 5 of the minibus taxi strike on 7 August, 2023 in Cape Town,(Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Jaco Marais)

Putting aside the issues surrounding the current strike and violence, as the main form of public transport, there should be measures in place to increase the operational efficiency of minibus taxis, and the government should ideally be working hand-in-hand to support them.

The minibus taxi strike in Cape Town has left tens of thousands of workers and children stranded and is a salient reminder that urban inequalities are far more than merely an economic issue.

Although there is an increasing acknowledgement of the multi-dimensional effects of urban inequalities, international bodies and governments continue to portray them as an issue that arises due to economic conditions, measured through prevalent, uni-dimensional indices such as the Gini Index.

In this article, I will reflect on an alternative view, proposing that urban inequalities arise through the interaction between society and critical infrastructure in space and time. 

I will reflect on the role of accessibility in cities and draw on recent empirical research which examines the relationship between specific social and spatial variables and the geographic positioning of stops and stations of the public Metrorail railway, MyCiti Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems and the privately owned minibus taxi system in Cape Town.

Increased emphasis on sustainable development highlights the importance of accessibility for economic development and equitable access for all socioeconomic groups to primary services.

Indeed, aspirations towards creating more socially inclusive, equitable and sustainable cities have become global standards of urban development, supported by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Social exclusion is a phenomenon that results from certain people being denied reasonable opportunities to participate in regional activities that they require and wish to access in everyday life.

It is well recognised that historically disadvantaged communities in South Africa continue to experience geographical, physical and economic obstacles to reaching the opportunities and services that they require. This is reinforced by the fact that land-use zoning schemes, in their current form in many South African cities, are zoned in such a way that economic opportunities are placed far from where the majority of the population live.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Cape Town, where the concentration of economic activity lies in the central business district, with some of the densest neighbourhoods lying some 25km from the CBD (depicted in Figure 1).

Oped taxi strife

Figure 1: Density of non-residential land use illustrated through point counts in hexagons drawn from the official land-use zoning of Cape Town.

According to the National Household Travel Survey (2020), minibus taxis are the dominant mode of public transport across South Africa, followed by buses and trains. 

My empirical research has shed light on the spatial accessibility levels provided by the minibus taxi, MyCiti BRT and Metrorail railway system in Cape Town and, as a case study, may explain why this is the case.

I examine walking distances to the locations of stops and stations of these different modes of transport and analyse the strength of their statistical relationships with other variables in the city, such as land use, street connectivity and socioeconomic variables including the population size of different neighbourhoods. 

The walking catchment analysis considered a radius of 800m of a stop (i.e. a 10-minute walk) as a basis for assessing physical proximity for pedestrians, as this, internationally, is considered a reasonable distance to walk to access public transportation. 

The two principal statistical analyses employed were Bivariate Correlation Analysis (Pearson) and Multiple Linear Regression Analysis (see my published paper, The spatial and social logic of the minibus taxi network: how access may support social inclusion in Cape Town, South Africa, for more details).

The results of the walking catchment analysis reveal that the minibus taxi provides the highest level of connectivity in the entire metropolitan area of Cape Town, with 60% of the street network within walking distance of a taxi stop.

In stark comparison, only 8% of the street network is within 800m of a train station and 14% of a BRT stop (see Figure 2 below).

Additionally, the statistical model indicates that almost 53% of the frequency of minibus taxi stops in a neighbourhood can be attributed to the combined frequency of business land use, mixed land-use plots, railway stations and total population size of that neighbourhood.

In contrast, the statistical models associated with the BRT and Metrorail revealed little relationship between population density and public transport access provided by them.

When reflecting on these results, the statistical analysis shows that minibus taxi routes and stops are not random, and rather can be viewed as an integral part of the spatial ecology of the city, with the positioning and frequency of their stops responding to the frequency of land use, density of people and working in conjunction with railway stations.

taxi strife in cape town

Figure 2: Walking catchment areas (800m) of the Metrorail, MyCiti BRT and minibus taxis in Cape Town.

Minibus taxis are a bottom-up system that arose due to real need during apartheid, and in many neighbourhoods are still the only form of affordable public transport. 

Relatively, the carrier capacity of a minibus taxi is quite small, with a limit of approximately 16 passengers, compared to a train which per carriage could hold about 65 people and a large bus approximately 60 people. However, due to the spatial accessibility of the minibus taxi stops and routes, this system trumps the BRT and railway.

In reality, they should not be covering the long commuting distances they do, but instead, serve as feeders to larger systems which can carry significantly more passengers. 

In the case of many neighbourhoods in Cape Town, this infrastructure simply does not exist, meaning that people have no other options, as we have witnessed over the last week with the minibus taxi strikes.

With the current issues put to one side surrounding the strike and accompanying violence, as a main form of public transport (although privately operated), there should be measures in place to increase the operational efficiency of minibus taxis, and government should ideally be working hand-in-hand to support them.

For example, this could be through the provision of designated taxi lanes, designated taxi stops, the introduction of an integrated fare system, as well as a digital rating and registration network to increase safety.

Through official registration of the owner and driver of each vehicle, more transparency and trust would be fostered with the public.

Furthermore, we need a rethink of our current land-use zoning system and investment into other multimodal forms of transport, such as expanding existing railways as bulk infrastructure and the provision of cycling lanes to increase access and provide low-carbon alternatives.

To address urban inequalities, transportation systems need to be designed in such a way that they are integrated with land use and population densities to enable greater equality of access to opportunities for economic and social interactions.

Interestingly, the minibus taxi system exhibits a naturally integrated system between connectivity of land use and population densities in Cape Town, and due to its emergent nature can quickly adapt to rapid urban growth.

Perhaps there is something to be learnt from this adaptability, as urban centres across Africa are set to continue to rapidly expand and all kinds of infrastructure need to be adapted and developed to equitably meet rising demand. DM

Ruth Nelson is an architect turned spatial data scientist and is currently working as an interdisciplinary PhD researcher at the Centre for Urban Science and Policy at TU Delft in the Netherlands. She has a Master’s in Architecture (Nelson Mandela University) and MRes in Space Syntax from University College London. She has worked in corporate, consulting and research roles in South Africa, the UK, Mexico and the Netherlands.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    The taxi industry, like any industry, must operate within the law.

    If they do this, the problem goes away.

    Gee, it’s so hard to comprehend.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Did your “impirical evidence” take into account that the taxi mafias have stopped growth of the BRT and regular bus services through destroying and burning infrastructure and buses? Does your research account for the collapse of the urban rail networks and the ANC governments outright refusal to hand this critical infrastructure and transport mode to local/provincial government? Does your research take into account that little of the growth in population in Cape Town is planned for but rather mass migration of people from other provinces desperately seeking hope and work in Cape Town and thus rapidly spreading the informal settlements unchecked?
    Your “walking catchment area” analysis is perhaps more suited to European cities, a different way of thinking is needed here

    • morrissey.helen says:

      Hi Ben, there’s a lot to unpack in your comment, which I am not going to do here. However, I would like to point out that ‘the taxi industry’ is diverse and complex, such that, for example, not all of the taxi industry is positively affected by the collapse of rail – for example, there are associations that have historically serviced routes from train stations whose route authorities do not permit them to start trips in other places, so that their livelihoods have been dramatically and negatively impacted. It is also worth noting that many taxi associations have shown great willingness to work constructively with government, including the City of Cape Town, to alter their business model and, thereby, the quality of their service (decoupling driver income from the farebox, for example). You can find a write up of some of the results on one such pilot by searching for: ‘Measuring the Evolution of Passenger Satisfaction Following the Introduction of Scheduled Services: The Case of the 7th Avenue Minibus-Taxi Association in Mitchells Plain’ (comments won’t let me post links) – unfortunately this project was not extended by the City, for reasons which are unclear. There are indeed criminal elements in the taxi industry, but painting the whole industry with the same brush is naive and unhelpful.

    • Sandile Sani says:

      I second this. Perhaps these stats would be different if the city was allowed control of key transport infrastructure and the infrastructure that they did control, busses, weren’t being burned and violently harassed.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    This article entirely ignores the fact that taxi operators are directly responsible for sabotaging rail, Miciti BRT and Golden Arrow Bus services (not to mention inter province bus services) and have been doubg so for many years, thereby severely limiting expansion of routes. Additionally, minitaxis compared to other modes of public transport (like busses, rail, the very stuff the taxi operators keep on burning down), is much less efficient for over all traffic, road safety and environment.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    The spatial historical development cannot be used as an excuse for many taxis not adhering to legislation, indeed, if the taxi industry cared at all for it’s paying commuters, there would not be the same disregard for safety which manifests itself in bald tyres, inadequate maintenance, and the whole attitude that makes the taxi industry they are a law unto themselves and accountable to no-one.

    This may well be accepted by every other part of South Africa, but then these self-same “rest of South Africa areas” have likewise given up on proper sanitation, pothole repairs, indeed the whole gamut of services for which taxes are paid and services ought to be rendered.

    The World is not perfect; our country is very far from perfect, and neither is Cape Town, but we all can only improve the lot of citizenry if we set standards – standards, rules and laws – and enforce them; something that ANC municipalities, cities and provinces singularly fail at.

    Dropping Cape Town standards works to no-ones advantage – efforts should rather be directed, BY NATIONAL GOVERNMENT at raising the bar in relation to enforcing the rules by which the taxi industry should abide by, enforce the laws of the land which means perpetrators, for example, those who torch buses, are arrested, charged and appropriately sentenced.

    July 2021 should not be a template of how are country should be run, rather it should be a lesson as to what CAN happen when rules, accountability, responsibilities are flaunted rather than adhered to.

  • R S says:

    “Government must work with industry”? How about industry must start following the laws, stop the violence whenever they are unhappy, and start paying taxes and then industry will have no problem with government?

  • jcdville stormers says:

    They want a monopoly on transport,don’t follow the country’s traffick laws(do they pay tax?) ,don’t like competition!!!Throw the book at them

  • Reinier Breytenbach says:

    Has anybody ever done empirical research on whether (or not) taxi drivers should be forced to carry comprehensive insurance cover, like all drivers in the USA have to?

    • Ben Harper says:

      Or like in the UK, if vehicles are seized for license and/or insurance infringements the owner has 14 days to pay the fines and produce a valid license/insurance failing which the vehicle is crushed

  • Sabienne Herbst says:

    “With the current issues put to one side surrounding the strike and accompanying violence” how does one do that?
    What is left to work with after unbridled violence and destruction of property and the rule of law totally eroded?

  • Peter Wanliss says:

    Where does one begin. Suggestions for further empirical research: A staff member arrived at work at 11:04. She walked 90 minutes to be safely picked up by Uber. Why couldn’t Uber pick her up at home? Another was dropped off by her husband. They risked their lives and their car to get to work this morning. Why can’t people travel to work in their own vehicles, or with their lift club? Two MyCiti bus stations in Du Noon, within 800 meters of where commuters live, have been burnt down, rebuilt and then immediately destroyed again. Why? Was the taxi industry offered participation in the MyCiti bus system? With what result? Are school children and others forced off hired transport and into taxis? Are lift club vehicles intercepted, the occupants forced to out and the vehicles impounded to be released on the payment of a “fine”? What “law” is applied here? Who burnt all the trains? Is a train ticket from Kraaifontein to Bellville R6.00 (if there is a train running) while the taxi fare is R30? Is it safe for me to pick up our staff from their home? Do most taxi commuters work in the CBD? Has Ms Nelson considered that the ‘economic activity’ conducted there is related to the prevalence of large legal firms, shipping agencies and financial institutions?
    We admire and support DM as a paragon of investigative journalism and intelligent comment, but recently we see flimsy articles perilously close to being Fake News. Please get back to the basics on which your reputation is built.

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