South Africa: Talks With Taxi Industry Continue As SA Fights Covid-19

Government t is continuing its talks with the taxi industry on crucial matters, including the possible introduction of a subsidy for the sector, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a media briefing held at the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) head office in Pretoria, the Minister said a meeting with the taxi industry has raised various issues.

Issues raised by the industry, which was represented at the meeting by the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and the National Taxi Alliance (NTA), included subsidies and the number of persons allowed in a taxi over the course of the country's 21-day national lockdown.

The Minister was updating the nation on Day 5 of South Africa's lockdown, which got underway at midnight on Thursday, 26 March.

The Minister said the issues raised by the taxi industry will be taken to Cabinet for further discussion.

"Over and above that, we are looking at the subsidy of the taxi industry. We must be cognisant that the issue of the subsidy remains on the table," said the Minister in response to a question.

Government, he said, would not make any decision lightly, given the importance of addressing the Coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the Minister announced that essential transport services will continue to operate during the 21-day nationwide lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Under the regulations announced by the Minister following the declaration of COVID-19 as a National State of Disaster, public modes of transport were allowed to operate from 5am - 9am and again from 4pm - 8pm.

However, in light of the payment of social grants, which got underway yesterday, Mbalula amended the public transport directions under the National State of Disaster.

Effective 30 March 2020 until Friday, 3 April 2020, buses and taxis are permitted to operate from 5am until 8pm.

The meeting also discussed the regulation of the sector, with Santaco having gone back to talk to its members.

"The National Command Centre reflected on this," said Mbalula, adding that new directives will be announced tomorrow.

"We will be able to speak about that tomorrow," said the Minister.

Threats of a shutdown

The Minister responded to reports of a national taxi shutdown, as it was reported that Santaco is set to stage a national shutdown from Wednesday onwards.

The proposed shutdown was in protest against government's lockdown regulations limiting the number of passengers that minibus taxis can ferry in one trip.

"We have been briefed on that. The issues of a shutdown is no longer on the agenda. I'm optimistic. There's an understanding that we didn't plan to be where we are now [in terms of the Coronavirus pandemic]. Coronavirus is an emergency," said Mbalula.

However, in a tweet, Santaco said the meeting unanimously resolved that the taxi industry will not embark on a nationwide strike.

"Taxis will be expected to operate, as per the revised regulations that have now raised loading capacity. We still want to maintain social distancing while operators at least break even," said Mbalula.

The association said while there is discontent on the transportation of essential service workers, the focus is on addressing COVID-19.

"... We believe that there can never be a problem bigger than COVID-19. We commit to rally behind government efforts and intend to continue offering these services, despite the problems," it said.

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