Urgent need to regulate taxi industry
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Opinion - With more than 200000 minibus taxis registered in South Africa, this multibillion-rand industry, which reportedly transports more than 60% of all commuters, undoubtedly plays a critical role in the socio-economic life of the country.
Recent statistics, in terms of transport utilisation, estimate that minibus taxi transport constitutes:
* 68% of all public transport trips to work.
* 69% of household primary travel mode.
* 70% of individuals who travel to educational institutions.
These figures show that the majority of commuters who use public transport rely heavily on minibus taxis.
This also tells us that, by and large, it is the underprivileged within our communities who are forced to bear the brunt of the industry’s often toxic behaviour.
Minibus drivers, with some exceptions, are notorious for their total disregard for road rules and the dangerous practise of overloading passengers.
Of greater concern, however, is the spike in taxi-related violence in KwaZulu-Natal.
A largely unregulated market, coupled with fierce competition for passengers and lucrative taxi routes, has seen taxi operators band together to form local taxi associations.
The struggle for control of these routes results in turf wars, with taxi associations employing Mafia-style tactics, including the hiring of hit men who use all sorts of weapons as tools of their trade.
An example is the SAPS discovery in August 2017 of a cache of firearms and ammunition in northern KZN, which included AK47 rifles, .303 rifles, pistols and home-made shotguns.
These are the calibre of firearms being used in faction fights and taxi-related violence.
Taxi violence in KZN has already claimed far too many lives.
Incidents during the past six months alone include, but are not confined to:
* The killing of 24-year-old taxi conductor Dillion Puckree, who was beaten to death in the suburb of Stanger Manor on the North Coast in September.
Puckree, who lived with his mother and sister, was the main breadwinner for his family.
* The killing of three family members, one of whom was a taxi boss, in Folweni. Three other people were injured in the same incident.
* The ambush of a Klipriver taxi boss at the end of October. After coming under a hail of bullets, the driver of the car lost control and crashed into an oncoming minibus taxi that was transporting teachers from two schools in the area.
The taxi boss and all occupants of his car were shot dead. Another five people in the minibus taxi died and other passengers were seriously injured. Eleven people lost their lives in the incident.
The main culprits were the two warring factions, namely Sizwe Transport and the Klipriver Taxi Association, whose battles over routes have accounted for 61 lives since 2014.
* The death of a 13-year-old schoolboy who was shot dead in Zwelibomvu in KwaNdengezi, west of Durban, at the beginning of February when he was caught in the crossfire between warring factions. Not only did an innocent child lose his life, his family lost a future breadwinner.
Taxi violence is destroying the moral fabric of our society. When taxi operators are not shooting each other, their other pastime is strike action, which almost always involves acts of violence.
The time has come for the government to ensure the industry is effectively regulated in the interests of commuters, as well as the safety and security of all road users.
The recent chaos caused by a taxi strike in Durban’s CBD is a case in point, where taxi operators and drivers brazenly held city officials to ransom, demanding the release of their vehicles, which had been impounded for various violations.
Another example of such belligerent behaviour is the strike within Pietermaritzburg’s CBD last month.
In this case, taxi operators were unhappy with the stiff fines they received for violations from Umsunduzi Municipality’s traffic officers. They also had the audacity to demand that traffic officers not conduct roadblocks between 5am and 8am.
The strike turned violent and a KZN Health Department vehicle was set alight and several others pelted with stones. Thousands of commuters, including schoolchildren, were left stranded that day.
Ironically, in the midst of such minibus taxi-related violence, Santaco, the SA National Taxi Council, claims to be committed to peace.
However, for peace to be realised, there needs to be true commitment on the part of the minibus taxi industry to effectively and amicably resolve their respective internal issues, supported by all stakeholders including the Department of Transport.
To this end, the DA has called on KZN’s MEC for transport to host an urgent Taxi Indaba involving all stakeholders, including his department, Santaco, the SAPS, RTI as well as commuter associations.
Taxi operators must be made to respect the rule of law. Failing this, the government must employ extraordinary measures to restore peace and stability to the industry. The blood-letting must stop.
The lives of innocent commuters and other road users must be protected. Taxi operators cannot be a law unto themselves.
The government must ensure that the industry is effectively regulated so that the lives of KZN’s citizens are no longer disrupted or threatened, and so that the economy of our towns and cities is no longer compromised by unacceptable and violent conduct.