The decision to have taxis return to operating as normal has been met with mixed reactions by operators across the country.

Taxi operators in Johannesburg continued to load their vehicles to full capacity in defiance of the COVID-19 lockdown regulations.

In terms of the lockdown regulations, taxis are mandated to load 70% passenger capacity. Taxi organisations say with the reduced load capacity, they are unable to make ends meet including repaying the installments on their vehicles.

SABC News on Monday afternoon visited the Bree Street Taxi Rank in downtown Johannesburg and commuters were seen sitting close to each other, making it impossible for them to observe social distancing. Passengers were wearing masks as per COVID-19 regulations.

Commuters told SABC News that while they sympathise with the plight of taxi operators, they are also concerned about their own health and safety, especially with Gauteng’s infection rate increasing.

The passengers say they have no choice but to use the taxis as it is the most convenient and efficient mode of transport for them.

Mixed views on full load

Commuters in Limpopo also expressed concerns about their health.

“Surely we were more than 12, the increase is a serious matter. I can’t say I’m safe, I have no choice because it’s a driver’s decision, what can I do.”

“It’s not really ideal. Sometimes I’m not feeling right that’s why I’m saying we’re forced to pay for other seats.”

Taxi operators in and around Polokwane were divided on the decisions by the National Taxi Alliance (NTA) and South African National Taxi Council (Santaco).

Some operators were carrying full loads on Monday, while others stuck with the 70% capacity as per government’s rules.

“Full because even the money is sorted, it’s fine yes we’re working 100% full load 15-seater,” says one operator.

“I’m working nicely, no I’m not carrying a full load I’m carrying 10 people,” says another operator.

The organisations say business is dwindling since the lockdown and they are concerned that their vehicles may be repossessed by their financiers. Santaco co-ordinator in Limpopo, Malose Madisha, says some of their members are still adhering to the lockdown regulations.

NTA spokesperson Frans Kgasago says they have to carry the full capacity of commuters in order to make a profit.

“The decision that was taken by national even the provincial executive we took the very same decision that there’s nothing that we can do as long as our taxis shall be sanitised. At the end of the day, all the passengers must wear masks, so we adhere to that and we’re busy loading as per a national instruction,” says Kgasago.

Taxi operators in various townships around Durban, in KwaZulu-Natal, say they will continue loading 70% of their capacity in order to allow senior structures in the industry to negotiate with government.

In the morning, some taxi ranks were defying the lockdown regulations and carrying 100% of their passenger capacity. But as the day progressed, they went back to 70%.

In the video below, Santaco briefs the media: 

Police had their hands full

In Mpumalanga, traffic was affected in the Mbombela CBD and surrounding areas following a standoff between the police and taxi operators. The taxi operators wanted to operate at 100% capacity.

The Mbombela Taxi Rank was later opened after a meeting with the police.

The Eastern Cape Transport Department warned operators who are defying lockdown rules that they will be dealt with.

“Unfortunately there have been cases of taxi operators who are loading at 100% capacity. They are scattered across the province and our law enforcement officers are on the ground dealing with that. But generally in the Eastern Cape taxi operators have abided by the rules and we wish to commend them for that. We are also calling on individuals taxi operators and passengers alike that those who continue to break the law, there will be consequences for that,” said Provincial Transport Spokesperson, Unathi Binqose.

Western Cape Minister for Transport, Bonginkosi Madikizela, described the taxi associations’ decision to violate lockdown rules as unfortunate. Madikizela says although he understands their frustration, their action does not help in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.

Earlier, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said grievances by the taxi industry should not result in lawless behaviour.

He appealed for calm as negotiations to resolve the industry’s concerns continue.

In the video below, some taxi operators say they will stick to lockdown rules: