School transport operators feel like they've been left high and dry
Both school transport operators and owners have been without an income since March 18 when schools were closed. Some tried to get parents to keep paying their monthly contributions, without any success, while others just gave up.
Now schools are set to open from June 1 but only for Grades 7 and 12 which also poses another dilemma for operators who are now expected to start operating with about a third of their normal daily load.
The SA Scholar Transporters Association (Sasta) said it reached out to the government to demand recognition, subsidies and a relief fund for their members without any luck.
Sasta Gauteng chairperson Xolani Masombuka said lack of support from the government was infuriating, especially since schools will only return in a phased approach which would mean that a large bulk of their members would not be going back to work.
“Our fight is not against parents. We are simply saying to the government that we need something from its end. As much as taxi drivers and owners are getting assistance in the form of subsidies, we also deserve that,” he said, referring to Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula’s announcement earlier this week that his department would offer financial assistance to the taxi industry.
“We have also not been provided with any kind of protective gear for the learners we will be transporting or for ourselves. We have not been given a directive of how we are going to work around the 70% capacity rule.
“Basically, we have not been taken into account and have been left out in the cold.”
The early closure of schools put brakes on the earnings of Jabu Masina whose income is derived from ferrying 14 learners from Katlehong to the Royal School in Alberton. He said his minibus taxi has been gathering dust for over two months.
The announcement by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Tuesday that grades 7 and 12’s will be returning to school next month did not reassure him either because his passengers are in grades 9, 10 and 11.
“I understand that only grade 7 and 12 learners will be heading back to school next month. I don’t transport any learners in these grades which means I have to remain at home. It is going to be very strenuous for me because we don’t operate like taxi drivers and collect money per trip, daily. We receive our wages monthly,” said Masina.
Echoing his sentiments was Lesley Dumile who has been transporting learners for the past six years.
“We don’t qualify for UIF. If we had that, we’d claim money from the fund and even return to work next year. But now we don’t have a backup plan and we don’t know what to do,” said Dumile.
Thabo Sakwala said he only transports learners from Grade 6 and lower, which means there will be no work for him when schools reopen next month.
“It is tough for us to make ends meet. We have not paid for our water and electricity, and are struggling to service our insurance policies and funeral covers,” he said.
The Sunday Independent