The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and the National Taxi Alliance (NTA) decided this week to ignore the Covid-19 transport regulations. As of yesterday morning, according to media reports, both organisations told their members that they didn’t have to comply with the regulations. This followed a similar decision by the provincial KZN Santaco structure.

The national taxi industry bodies have raised a range of issues which help illuminate why going into lockdown was a bad idea in the first place.

Fikile Mbalula postpones meetings

The taxi associations claim that while they were willing to compromise with the government through negotiation, this was made impossible because transport minister Fikile Mbalula kept postponing meetings. They could be lying, of course, but the taxi industry did compromise with the government during the early stages of the lockdown when they backed down from their demand to be allowed to use 100% of their loading capacity.

In order for there to be a negotiation, the other party has to be willing to sit down and talk; any refusal to negotiate only increases the likelihood of disagreement turning into violent conflict. The taxi industry is a crucial part of South Africa’s economy and the government has to walk the fine line of treating the industry fairly, without giving in to the urge to grant it special privileges. The government also has to consider the contribution, if any, of transport and other economic policies in the recurring violence within the taxi industry.

In their 1986 classic, South Africa: The Solution, Leon Louw and Frances Kendall point out that government involvement in industry causes conflict in and of itself. They use the fictional examples of the Trouser Control Board and the Trouser Development Corporation to show how putting the production of something as innocuous as trousers under government control would soon become a source of political conflict.

Government intervention through subsidies also creates conflict, and it is critical that the government avoids putting itself in the position where it causes such economic harm as to make itself liable for making up large losses through subsidies, as has happened with Covid-19.

Relief fund

This is the major source of conflict and it directly influences all the other complaints. Taxi owners, as represented by their associations, are not happy with the size of the proposed Covid-19 relief grant to the industry. The R1.1 billion grant amounts at most to R8462.54 per taxi, assuming that there are at least 130 000 taxis on the road.

It is highly unlikely that this would be enough to cover the losses the industry has suffered because of the Covid-19 regulations.

Loading capacity

The reduced loading capacity due to Covid-19 has been a persistent complaint from the industry since the lockdown began. The taxi industry derives a large share of its revenue from passengers in urban environments. The passenger market has been reduced by the business shutdowns, the limitations on personal movement, personal risk reduction by individuals and the government mandate that taxis carry only 70% of their capacity, (revised upwards from an initial 50% after protests by the industry).

In an environment – largely caused by the government itself – where taxi owners are being squeezed from all sides, the loading restrictions are making a bad situation even worse. This particular regulation affects taxis more than operators such as Uber or Bolt (which rely on certain high-demand days of the month to make most of their money), because the taxi rank model depends on filling the vehicle to capacity and charging low prices. It is how the industry is able to transport most of the country’s commuters.

The government is in the process of killing the taxi industry, and the decision by Santaco and the NTA to start loading at full capacity is a sign of desperation. Adding one more nail to the coffin is the restriction on inter-provincial travel, with passengers requiring permits, which the driver must check.

Inter-provincial / Long-distance travel

Both national taxi associations have indicated they will no longer be complying with the requirement to ask if passengers have a valid permit. It is my opinion, based on some experience, that this particular regulation was not being widely followed. It is nonsensical anyway; the reason for travelling does not matter, the important thing is to reduce risk while a passenger is in the taxi.

The regulation that seems, anecdotally at least, to have been most widely complied with is the limitation on loading capacity, especially on long-distance trips. Limiting numbers is a more sensible measure, but not if the cost is that everyone involved in the taxi industry becomes poorer. This runs the risk of reducing asset ownership among black people in particular. It would be ironic for a government implementing BEE to be simultaneously implementing regulations that make it more likely that black taxi entrepreneurs fail.

Taxi fares

The current crisis is made up of multiple underlying issues, due largely if not solely, to government interference in the economy. The spark for the current crisis, however, is the spike in taxi fares reported a few weeks ago when some taxi associations announced increases exceeding 100%. Among these were the Alexandra Taxi Association (Ata) and the Alexandra, Randburg, Midrand, Sandton Taxi Association (Armsta).

The government’s interference in the economy, regardless of intent, has created a situation where South Africans are losing their livelihoods. The government, supposedly in response to a virus, created an extreme set of economic circumstances. While the costs of intervention have to be borne by the government, the problem is that it relies on the very same people to produce enough money to allow for this intervention.

Now, with debt rising rapidly as a percentage of GDP, the government has just made everyone poorer while promising to compensate all of us ‘later’. The time to pay up has come, and the realities of government finances, which were apparent before Covid-19, have been brought into even sharper focus.

Perhaps, after all, we will learn the lesson that government promises mean very little without the hard work and productivity of South Africans.

[Picture: Mike Gerhardt, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2052711]

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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19 COMMENTS

  1. if the taxis break the law so will the rest of us. Everyone is getting poorer where capacity (hotels) or sales limit (alcohol/cigarettes’) are in place. To make things worse, you and I are wearing masks and staying home but others are in the streets maskless and careless.

    • EXACTLY.

      The ruled have decided that the rules are not working.

      Stay home with your mask if it makes you feel safe, the rest of us will be out there working and making a living and keeping the economy going and the lights on.

      • There was a cartoon: One guy with “I’m wearing a mask to stop the virus”. And another guy “I’m erecting a wire mesh fence to stop mosquitoes”. And since the WHO can’t make up its mind, what is an ordinary person to do?

    • I wear a mask because I will not be admitted into shops, etc. without one. I detest wearing these fabric masks, because in this cold weather, my breath condenses on my glasses so that I can’t see. In addition, my breath condenses on the mask itself so that after half an hour’s wearing, it is completely wet through. With a mild asthma, I am unable to breathe properly (I believe that the CIA calls this ‘waterboarding’). And since the WHO can’t seem to make up their minds – mask? no mask?, I prefer to breathe, but will try to prevent anyone else getting a touch of my asymptomatic output. If I was sick, I would stay indoors, and only wear a mask when shopping – because I sort of like eating. But – and this is the real catch of the lockdown – I’M NOT SICK! Isolating well people smacks of imprisonment, and it’s no wonder people have been breaking lockdown.

  2. And yet it’s okay for Aircraft to have full capacities. No logic just petty rules and stupidity; The whole argument of the government was not based on any science either. The conniving had an ulterior motive. An excuse and method or MO to enable further plunder.
    Yes, any regulation and subsidy, protection, government interference including crooked schemes and promises of compensation using tax payers money is wrong.

  3. Now this is going to cause the government a problem. If, and maybe when, Covid19 starts to spread like wild fire, they won’t have Apardheid, Colonialism and Imperialism to blame.

  4. The comrades of the ANC triad are trapped in the authoritarian belief that state control will work. This despite its failure historically and repeatedly. The legitimacy of their rule is waning fast. Like eTolls, there comes a point when citizens can and do say enough is enough. I hope the taxi operators do the same.

    • Civil Disobedience is awesome isnt it?

      I cannot wait to hear the chosen goverment representative splutter and threaten and condemn the taxi operators.

      I wonder if they can and will realise their authority has limits….

      • Eric Frank Russell’s “The Great Explosion”, has a planet colonised by followers of Gandhi, whose motto is “Freedom – I won’t!”. When a whole city/country/planet refuses to just obey (anybody!) – you can’t just lock them ALL up!

  5. You have to love the taxis. They have just again, proven why laws work and why they dont.
    If tomorrow, the public by and large were to decide that the lockdown is over, and commence to behave as they did prior to the lockdown, what could goverment do?

    Its like Sanral and Outa.

    If enough people decide that something is not in their best interest, their is absolutely NOTHING a goverment can do.

    I love the taxi associations today. This is indeed good news.

  6. I am not surprised. The taxi industry has always been a factor to reckon with . It takes 3 strikes and you’re out
    a) e-toll
    b) Corruption/State Capture
    c) Lockdown ???????

  7. Indeed. Sad but true. A few of us adhere to the lockdown regulations but the majority did not. Enough is enough. Three months down the drain, how will we ever recover?

  8. I for sure dont support the lawlessness of the Taxi, as already they do not stop at robots, pass at wrong times, but I support their plan to fire up and work as normal. the government has crippled us all while the fat cats sit in their luxury and receive salaries and make non-sense decisions. Not 1 rule they have forced on us has any sense or logic. I hope that this test which the government has sadly failed is a proof to the their voters that they need a new government

  9. We seem to have forgotten that the taxi industry is an example of free enterprise capitalism at its best. It emerged and grew spontaneously in spite of attempts by the government of the day to outlaw it. Their gung-ho attitude to traffic laws is evidence of the pride they take in their pirate legacy. A gang war between their warlords and the Magashule’s authoritarian thugs is going to be interesting.

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