Mbalula reverts back to 70% loading capacity rule for taxis

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula. Image via: Alet Pretorius / Gallo

Lockdown transport: Mbalula on taxis, roadblocks and repatriation

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula says he has been navigating his way through ‘unchartered waters’ with his ‘fix-it’ approach.

Mbalula reverts back to 70% loading capacity rule for taxis

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula. Image via: Alet Pretorius / Gallo

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said his department was bound to make some mistakes as it navigated “unchartered waters” during the nationwide lockdown, and said that roadblock operations had been rolled out and were functioning effectively. 

He also announced amendments to permitted operating times for taxis, that will now run between 05:00 and 10:00, as well as between 16:00 and 21:00 from Saturday 4 April.

Shoppers left stranded

Mbalula said that the changes to taxi operating schedules comes after the department received an avalanche of complaints from shoppers who were left stranded at malls with no taxis to ferry them home. 

“One of the key unintended consequences of the 09:00 cut-off time in the morning was that a significant number of people get left behind in shopping malls because some of the stores, such as pharmacies and banks, only open at 09:00,” he said.”

He said that public opinion is appreciated as various departments do their best to implement effective strategies. 

‘We welcome constructive criticism’

“We welcome constructive criticism to shape up as government where some think government is lowering the guard against COVID-19 and undermines the lockdown.”

“We are under no illusion that public transport remains one of the highest risk areas in the spread of the pandemic, and our interventions must always seek to arrest the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

“Our country’s socio-economic dynamics require that we continuously evaluate the measures we put in place and make adjustments, where we believe we are not realising the lockdown objectives.”

Roadblock roll-out 

The self-dubbed “Mr Fix-it”, said that roadblocks had been doing well to identify rule-breakers on the roads. 

“Yesterday, 221 cars returned back home in Gauteng, more than 80 in Mpumalanga and 24 in the Eastern Cape,” the transport minister said, pleading with drivers to “stay home”.

The vehicles were prevented from crossing provincial borders because they did not have the appropriate permits to do so. Earlier, Mbalula announced that inter-provincial travel is only permitted in special circumstances, with no public transport agencies allowed to travel to different provinces.

He said that traffic officers had apprehended 56 minibus drivers who were in contravention of the maximum 70% limit on passengers, and 32 e-hailing providers who were caught carrying more passengers than the revises lockdown laws permit.

He said that 146 roadblocks were conducted, with 17 395 vehicles stopped and checked for permits and proper licensing. 

Repatriation of foreigners

Mbalula said that foreign nationals would continue to be repatriated to their countries, with a plane transporting 321 Brazilian tourists [link] departing from OR Tambo International Airport on Thursday 2 April and a South African Airways (SAA) plane leaving Cape Town International Airport on Friday afternoon to jet some German nationals back home.

He added that South Africans abroad would be permitted re-entry during the lockdown. 

“Foreign nationals may be repatriated back to their countries. South African nationals may be repatriated back to South Africa for the next 21 days. Technical flights may land in South Africa, but the crew can’t disembark.

Taxi relief fund

On the matter of a proposed financial relief fund for taxi drivers, who have been extremely vocal about their disdain for financial losses during the lockdown, Mbalula said that there were no concrete measures in place just yet. 

“Are we considering this? Yes. Is there a decision yet? No.”

He acknowledged that taxi owners are making a loss during this lockdown period, but said that the department currently can’t offer financial relief because they are not regulated.

“[Before the coronavirus crisis] we were working to negotiate with taxi associations to make them regulated,” he said. 

He added that his decision to backtrack on his order for taxis to operate at a 70% capacity rather than a 50% capacity as he had previously ordered, was not a matter of bowing to pressure from taxi associations, but rather the fruits of the “consultative nature of the process that belongs to the people”.