In a nod of appreciation to the Carolina community and acknowledging the damaging financial effects of Covid-19, the taxi association there has cut fares for learners.
The Carolina Taxi Association in Mpumalanga cut its local taxi fares by half for all schoolgoers in an effort to lessen the strain on parents whose finances were severely affected by Covid-19 and the soaring unemployment rate.
As of 1 June 2021, learners pay R5 per trip, down from R10. "No one from the community has come forward to request that we reduce the fares but given that job opportunities are slim as a result of Covid-19 and that some learners may have lost breadwinners, the situation dictates that we reduce the taxi fares for school learners," said the association's deputy secretary, Solomon Mathebula, 60.
Zethu Mnguni, 48, secretary of the association's executive committee, said the price reduction was timely, considering that June is Youth Month. "We want our kids to go to school. The R5 they receive to carry at school, now it could afford them ... taxi fare to go to school," she said.
Mathebula said it was crucial to give back to the community, which is the backbone of the taxi industry. "We had to analyse carefully. We then said we are not focusing much on making profits. Our sole focus is to help the community ... Learners have to attend extra classes on weekends to catch up. It was fitting that we reduce the prices because taxis are available seven days a week," said Mathebula. "Our executive committee is very thoughtful, and there's nothing we cannot overcome if we work together."
The association's chairperson, Sifiso Thugwana, 37, said, "We've decided that all children, whether they are going to school or not, will pay half price. But we've assessed that it will help mostly school learners who commute on minibus taxis to go to school. Then if parents send their children to town other than for school purposes ... it is a cherry on top for the community."
The association said that despite the price reduction for school goers, this will not have any effect on taxi drivers' income. "They will get their salaries in full," said another executive member of the association, Vukani Thwala, 46.
Working with the community
Benele Mnisi, 30, a taxi driver in Carolina, said: "When I grew up, I was not charged full price like an adult in a taxi. The decision to cut down prices is the right thing to do. By reducing the prices, it's like I am also helping myself, because in [the] future even if I am unemployed, it means I'd be able to assist my family to go to school at affordable prices. In the morning when I was transporting school learners, I could hear how excited they were, and some parents have stopped paying for shuttle transport for their children because it's cheaper now for their children to commute on a taxi."
Thugwana said a lot of community members have been calling to ask if it is true that they have halved prices for children.
The association said it decided to give back to the community because they help the drivers run the operation smoothly. For instance, community members do not complain when a taxi takes them to a stationary minibus waiting to fill up before departing.
"Our community is very happy, and this encourages us to do even more given the response that we've been receiving from the community. You can understand if you have frustrations of how your child will get to school, then such an opportunity comes," Thugwana said. "You must understand a taxi business is not yours alone. Such a business is for the community. This is a proud thing especially from a small association like this."
Another executive member of the association, Daniel Nene, 60, said: "We'd appreciate it if other associations could take inspiration from this decision and copy it."
The pandemic will continue to put financial strain on households, so prices will remain low for the time being. "Covid-19 has not affected people only for today, nor will it be only for tomorrow. If we decide to halve prices just for June alone, nothing would have changed after that. We'd still be having Covid-19. Therefore, we've made this decision for the long run. It is not something that will ... stop anytime soon," said Thugwana.