Commuters caught in the middle when taxis are impounded
Passengers can be left stranded far from home when traffic officials swoop and impound offending taxis.
Taxi impoundments have been a hot topic in Cape Town in recent months and a big subject at the Mobility Summit held last week.
In the build-up to the deadly Western Cape taxi strike in August, the City of Cape Town said it was impounding about 1,000 taxis a month.
There are three instances in which a taxi can be impounded under the subsequent agreement signed by the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and local and provincial governments. These exclude offences under a new city traffic by-law, which are still being discussed by the parties in the Taxi Task Team.
The three impoundable offences that include taxis are for:
- Driving without an operating licence;
- Driving without a PDP/driver’s licence; and
- Driving an unroadworthy vehicle.
Both provincial and municipal traffic officers have the authority to impound vehicles that do not comply with the above.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Santaco gained nothing from taxi strike – instead, everyone lost, mainly the poor, says Cape Town mayor
Occasionally, authorities offload passengers who are still in transit during these impoundments. In some cases, drivers flee on foot when they are pulled over and realise they may be arrested or have their vehicle impounded.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Blow to EFF’s Western Cape ‘shutdown’ after ANC and two other bodies pull out
Nolusindiso Dabula said they were travelling from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape when the taxi they were travelling in was impounded by provincial traffic officers in Beaufort West on Sunday. “The driver asked us to assist him in fighting off the officers, but we did not know what to do,” she said.
“The taxi was eventually impounded and we were loaded off next to a garage. The driver disappeared after some time; we had to call the owner for assistance.”
Currently, the impoundment fee in the Cape Town Metro starts at R2,500.
Additional costs may include fees relating to the vehicle’s impoundment, transport and storage.
The owner sent another taxi for Dabula and her fellow passengers to continue their journey. This is done at the owner’s cost, but the driver forfeits the fare and it goes to the new driver taking over the trip.
Dabula believes that traffic law enforcement officers could have been sympathetic. “They could have driven us to our destination then say we must arrange our transport back. We were left in a place we do not know.”
During a memorial service for Nkosi Lobi, a taxi owner from Strand in Cape Town, Luyandwa Nyingwa, of the South African National Civic Organisation, said passengers should not exit when a taxi is being impounded. That, he said, would prevent the officers from impounding the taxi.
“Commuters should not be stranded,” he said. “Traffic officers have no right to offload passengers in the middle of the road without providing alternative transport. Don’t get off, this is the message we were spreading on Monday [during the EFF protest].”
The EFF held a protest on Monday over various grievances, including what the party called unjust taxi impoundments.
Read more in Daily Maverick: EFF’s protest against taxi impoundments in Cape Town draws little support
However, there is no legislation that says the onus lies on authorities to provide alternative transport for passengers when a taxi is impounded.
Santaco deputy chairperson Nceba Enge said passengers were always caught in the middle when impoundments took place.
“Officers do not make any arrangements when they are impounding a vehicle,” he said. “As the owner you are not even aware that there is an impoundment taking place. If a taxi is impounded locally, drivers and the commuters are left stranded until arrangements are made. In long distance, we send a vehicle immediately to assist; same with accidents; we send a vehicle. We feel bad when people are left stranded.”
Three drivers told Daily Maverick that when their taxis were impounded locally, to save money, they asked taxis going to the same destination to take one or two passengers. This worked when the taxis were from the same association.
In some cases, the drivers say traffic officials themselves drive the taxi to the destination and proceed with the impoundment when every passenger has exited.
Enge said officers should be lenient sometimes, especially when a taxi was travelling long-distance. “They should consider fining the vehicle instead of impounding.”
Jandre Bakker, spokesperson for the Western Cape’s Department of Transport and Public Works, said the public transport operator was responsible for arranging alternative transport when a taxi was impounded.
While Santaco did not disagree, Enge said a taxi driver should be allowed to complete their journey.
Bakker said: “It is the same for private vehicles … Passengers are not simply left at the side of the road. Passengers will wait for alternative transport at a safe rest spot or town depending on where the impoundment took place.” DM