Let’s have more taxi blockathons!
I wish that the taxi people would time their blockades to coincide with a passing VIP convoy. That will be fun to watch
How many more minibus-taxi blockades will we need before we realise that public transport is in a mess? To use an old cliché, none of this is new. Unless we fix the problem, though, South Africa can look forward to endless repetition of these incidents.
The taxi people are actually doing us a favour by bringing certain problems to our attention. If we fail to fix them, junk status is here to stay.
Previous Hopping Off columns have provided a reminder that it is shallow thinking that has got us here. It started as long ago as the 1950s … but space is limited, so let’s fast forward to The Star of June 28, 1988:
“The expansion of black taxi fleets has proved the miracle of the mid-1980s, Mr Clem Sunter, scenario planner at the Anglo American Corporation, said in Johannesburg yesterday. Investments in taxi fleets was now running at R3 billion and the number of jobs created, directly and indirectly, stood at 300 000, equal to 60 percent of the labour force of the gold mining industry.”
At the time, it was fashionable to elevate the taxi industry almost to the same level as that of the gold mines. A month earlier, in Business Day of June 15, an economist from the University of the Witwatersrand, Frank Vorhies, had weighed in with this:
“There are about 400 000 black workers in the gold mines. There are about 100 000 black taxi drivers, plus thousands of others supporting the industry. In other words, the taxi industry is now at least 25 percent of the size of the entire gold mining industry … we should not be worrying about the small impact of some external factor like the United States trade deficit. We should be looking at the large impact of internal factors, like liberating black enterprise.”
Actually, we should have worried. At least the gold mines were earning much-needed foreign exchange, something which the transport industry in South Africa has never been very good at. Exporting a few cars counts for very little.
Sadly, the “low-road scenario” – a phrase coined by Sunter at that time – in which South Africa now finds itself, is partly as a result of our unquestioning acceptance of the shallow arguments put forward thirty years ago.
After that, it merely got worse. In early February 1993, a taxi blockade severely disrupted traffic in the centre of Johannesburg. Dozens of crisis meetings were held. One of them was a “taxi indaba” held later that year under the auspices of a now long-defunct National Transport Forum. Forgive me for quoting its Final Draft Policy at some length – but all the authorities have to do is read the following:
“Urgent action is necessary to formulate and introduce the necessary policy structures required in the taxibus industry, so that procedures can be stabilised and taxibus operations be placed on a sound business footing for the benefit of the entire community. Such changes will not come about voluntarily … there is also no guarantee that an improved situation will be automatically maintained into the future, as there do not appear to be self-regulating forces in the industry which are capable of bringing about lasting changes of universal acceptability.
“It is necessary to formulate equitable provision for placing the taxibus industry on a par with bus and commuter rail transport in terms of concessions and support systems based on the same principles for all modes.”
Sadly, I predict that the authorities will merely start the same tired old processes that inevitably follow each taxi crisis.
All of this is nothing more than plain common sense. We know what to do, and have no excuse for not doing it. This concept was an integral part of the Gauteng 25-year Integrated Transport Master Plan (ITMP25) of 2013, which was later withdrawn for reasons unknown.
Maybe the EFF will follow up on this. If they are confident enough to tackle corruption at Transnet, this one shouldn’t be too difficult.
Let’s conclude by refreshing our memories. The ITMP25 listed 164 bus routes in Gauteng that are supposed to be introduced. They are divided into Red, Blue and Green routes, representing different levels of service.
About 8 000 vehicles would be required. Many of these routes could be operated using small buses under contract to the appropriate authority. There would be considerable scope for taxi associations to participate, and operators would receive guaranteed income.
Instead of pushing this plan with vigour,
the Gauteng Province is wasting time with the expansion of the Gautrain. And our sleepy
“coalition” city councils are letting the province get away with it.
So, let’s have a few more taxi “blockathons”. If they don’t succeed in waking us up, we deserve to remain in junk territory for ever.
Vaughan Mostert lectured on public transport issues at the University of Johannesburg for nearly thirty years. Through Hopping Off, Mostert leaves readers with some parting food for thought as he continues his push for change in the local public transport industry.