Friday, 19 June 2020

Pretoria: Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has announced R1.135 billion relief package to the country’s taxi industry in an effort to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the sector.

Addressing reporters on Friday, the Minister said reaching an agreement within government for this relief support for the taxi industry was a difficult process, which involved extensive lobbying and convincing the relevant authorities on the importance and need for this fund.

“Most of the special relief funds for sub-sectors provides on average maximums of about R350 million in comparison to what’s on offer the taxi industry,” he said.

The Minister said the industry has further requested that the Department of Transport should review the regulations and directions to allow for the loading capacity to be increased from the current 70% to 100% with all passengers wearing masks and with regular sanitisation of vehicles after each journey as mitigation measures.

“This is not a matter the Department of Transport can finalise on its own and will need to be discussed by the NATJOINTS and the National Coronavirus Command Council for its consideration and then a response will be provided to the Taxi Industry,” he said.

The taxi industry, he said, has also requested that the department allow inter-provincial travel of taxis and for cross-border operations.

“Similarly, this too will be subjected to the intra-governmental processes and to this extent, I have undertaken to report back to the taxi industry in the coming week on the feedback of my engagement with the colleagues on the proposals,” said Mbalula.

He said he was also requested to intercede on behalf of the operators, who are clients of SA Taxi Finance, to ask for a moratorium on vehicle repossessions and also on an extended repayment holiday for taxi operators in distress.

In this regard, he said the Ministry had received encouraging and positive feedback from SA Taxi Finance. The company, he said, will put a moratorium in place and also extend their initial one-month repayment holiday by a further two-months “to aid in alleviating the difficult position the taxi industry finds itself in as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The Department of Transport is set to finalise its work and will in due course announce the date on which payments in respect of the available relief will start.

The department’s mandate, he said, is to enable mobility in the economy and social-setting.

“However, we are enjoined to execute this mandate responsibly and in a manner that ensures that the preservation of human life remains sacrosanct.

“The hard choices we have to make as a nation are premised on the centrality of the right to life and our singular commitment to uphold this right, above all else. Not everyone will be happy with these choices, some of which have been hard and will undoubtedly change our way of life.

“However, we must never forget the reason we make these difficult choices in the first place: to preserve human life.

“We are equally duty bound to ensure that ours is not a sector that will enable the rampant spread of the virus. The measures that we put in place, and continue to revise from time to time, are meant to mitigate against this spread through various transport modes.”

The taxi industry moves approximately 15.6 million passenger journeys on a daily basis, accounting for moving 68% or 5.4 million passengers daily.

It is estimated that this industry generates in excess of R40 billion per annum, with approximately anything between 250 000 to 300 000 taxis that generate approximately 350 000 direct and indirect job opportunities. These include drivers, rank marshals and other administrative support staff.

The Minister said there were currently 137 000 legal taxis operating in the country, with the relevant and valid operating licences.

“We also estimate, based on the last audit undertaken, that there are approximately 113 000 taxis operating illegally with receipts as proof that they have applied for operating licences with the relevant provincial authorities. It should be emphasised that the fact that you have applied for a permit does not automatically mean that you are issued with a permit.” he said.