Fear factor: tour operators running scared on N1, N2
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CAPE TOWN tour operators who were hoping for a bumper holiday season are facing a fresh up hill battle after the pandemic lay waste to the industry.
Operators warn that their safety and business was at risk as vehicles were unnecessarily impounded and they faced threats from taxi drivers.
The Winelands, and even further down the coast, are popular tourist spots. But to get there, tour operators use either the N1 or N2 and certain stretches of these highways they claim pose a particular risk.
Tour guide David Williams’s vehicle, a Toyota Quantum, was impounded by traffic cops on the N1, while driving tourists from a wine farm this month.
The N1, is particularly, contentious due to the closure of the B97 taxi route between the Bellville interchange and Mbekweni near Paarl. More than 80 people were killed during violence between warring taxi associations Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (Cata) and Congress of the Democratic Association (Codeta) which resulted in the route’s closure in July.
Williams said: "I was driving on the N1 towards the Durban Road turn-off, police pulled me over. They checked for the permit on the vehicle. They asked for my driver's licence which has the PrDP (Professional Driver's Permit) on it. And then they asked for the operating permit, which was in the cubby-hole, which I produced. The office asked me to step out of the vehicle. He just told me I was not allowed to drive along the N1 during because it's been flagged as a red zone, because of the conflict on the Bellville and Paarl route. And then he told me that unfortunately the vehicle has to be impounded, and the clients in the car need to go to Brackenfell Police Station, where I have to organise another vehicle to fetch them and get them back to their destination, in Rondebosch."
The fine, which Independent Media is in possession of, states that offence is for “operating a road-based public transport service contrary to the conditions on the B97 route”.
Williams added: "I didn't want to cause any conflict so I just agreed. But I did question why and how. But he (the cop) said the law was implemented a few months ago and he was just doing his job."
Richard Coleman, spokesperson for Cape Town Traffic Services, confirmed: "Taxis are allowed on the N1. Only the B97 route from Paarl to Bellville is closed. However, it must be noted that, when a vehicle is transporting tourists, an operating licence is required. In the event that the driver was operating contrary to the conditions of the operating license, then he is advised to approach the Provincial Regulatory Entity."
Athol Williams, owner of tour company Style Travel, was concerned as he used the N1 to take tourists on the Spice Route, to Franschhoek or Paarl. “The cops or the taxis pull us over because we have a Quantum, and that is scary."
Williams added it was also embarrassing to be pulled over “with tourists because cops think it is a taxi. One incident is one incident too many”.
Cata secretary Mandla Hermanus has also expressed concern about the increased risk of tour vehicles being impounded on the N1 by law enforcement authorities."The traffic officers are lazy. They've got a blanket thing where they impound any and every Quantum, whether it is on the Durbanville side or on the N1, which is wrong," he said. "Now they have turned the whole district into a no-go area for Quantums instead of isolating the area where the route has been closed. Right now we have a challenge, because we have routes from Bellville to Worcester and Robertson. And even those Quantums get impounded along the N1, even though they are not going to Mbekweni. The traffic department is taking the easy way out instead of monitoring and ensuring those people between Mbekweni and Bellville don't operate."
Lesley Sikhuphela from Codeta was also scathing in his criticism. "Traffic officers are pulling off vehicles willy nilly even if a person has a permit, alleging that he is driving on the B97 route. But then impounding him just outside of Paarl on the R45 en route to Franschhoek," he said. "My chairperson's vehicle was pulled off with an allegation that he was driving on the B97 route. But he was driving between Franschhoek and Paarl. And the route is stipulated clearly on the operating licence. We have brought this to the attention of the provincial traffic department. They promised us they would look at it. Because right now they are causing havoc on the road."
MEC for Transport Daylin Mitchell closed the B97 route. "While there has subsequently been relative calm between the warring groups, the processes and joint operations put in place by an inter-governmental group led by the SAPS and our Department of Transport and Public Works, ensure that the agreement signed by the parties is monitored and that the closure is strictly enforced. Vehicles that operate on Route B97, in contravention of the Closure regulations, are impounded."
Mitchell said talks to reopen the route were ongoing.
On the N2, tour operators face another danger. They've been complaining of incidents where taxi drivers, posing as traffic officials, were pulling over minibuses.
Faiek Allie from Athlone, a tour operator since 2007, said he was driving a group of women last weekend from Mosselbay when he was instructed to stop by "guys on the road with orange bibs with yellow stripes".
Allie said he initially thought they were traffic officers. "They demanded to see my papers. I said this is not a taxi. We're on holiday. They were looking through my van. Then I just drove off."
Allie said some of the passengers were scared because the men were "very aggressive...They were probably looking for pirate taxi operators because I noticed their tops had Codeta stickers on," he added.
Quinton Jacobs, who owns a shuttle service, said one of his vehicles was also pulled over on the N2, near Mossel Bay by taxi operators. "Taxi associations who seem to operate above the law definitely affect people not only in the tourism industry, but charter services as well. They brand every Toyota Quantum as a taxi. Just imagine being forced to the side of the road by someone wearing a reflective jacket, he thinks he has the right to stop you. He is not the law. And you have clients and these guys are banging on your vehicle and just over the top and wanting to see the list of clients in the car. What gives them the right?"
Codeta's Sikhuphela said he was not aware of these incidents. “I am not aware of anything happening in Mossel Bay."
Meanwhile in Fisantekraal, taxi drivers have reportedly been blocking cars and pulling passengers out of private vehicles, forcing them to take taxis instead.
Police spokesman Colonel Andre Traut confirmed that an operation was conducted on Friday in the area to "maintain law and order".
Cata and Codeta have said their peace agreement was still in place. And that their focus for now centres mainly around the Joe Slovo taxi rank in Milnerton, where three people were shot dead and one other injured in September. Sikhuphela said: "We are in talks and busy establishing a committee from both sides and address the issue accordingly." While Hermanus responded: "We have tried as hard as we can to isolate the conflict in Joe Slovo so that it does not escalate to include all of the taxi associations affiliated to either Cata or Codeta. We have engaged the people who operate there. Even Codeta guys were helpful to get the guys who shot there arrested. The guys working in Joe Slovo are working hand in hand with us to ensure whoever is stepping out of line, that person is dealt with."