The lockdown regulation requiring taxis to run at reduced capacity has, in the absence of relief funds from government, forced taxi owners to hike fares.
A proposed taxi fare increase of 172% announced by two Alexandra taxi associations threatens to make employment outside of the township unaffordable for residents. The looming taxi fare increase has been heavily criticised for adding salt to the wound of poor commuters already crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The majority of passengers commuting daily from Alexandra township to Sandton are low-income earners ranging from security guards, cleaners, drivers, petrol attendants and domestic workers.
Commuters from the township to Sandton will have to fork out R30, instead of the current R11 per trip.
Virginia Mudau (36) is a mother of two and she has been working as a cleaner in Benmore, Sandton, since 2008. She earns R3,200 a month, a significant chunk of which goes to transport.
“Currently my monthly expense on transport sits at R440; with this increase, I’m looking at R1,200. Imagine: I’ve got kids that are also using transport to go to school. This is compounded by the usual debts one has every month. I’m not earning that much and as a result of lockdown, our working days were reduced. Also we are used to every year getting increases and bonuses. This year we’ve already been told that it is not going to happen. The taxi industry must understand no one should be blamed for the lockdown. We are all affected and must feel for each other. Increasing the fare to R30 is way too exorbitant. I wish I could walk to work.”
Alfred Netutondwa (63), a factory driver, who earns R150 a day and travels daily to Industria near Soweto, is also affected by this increase. He takes care of his five children and five grandchildren. “I change taxis two times before my destination. This increase means I’ll spend more than R60 a day. We are finished, already dead. It’s like kicking a dying dog. Can’t they think for us?” he pleaded.
Rose Botopelo (49), a cleaner from Lonehill, south of Johannesburg, is a single mother of two and two grandchildren. Like Mudau, she says her monthly transport expense after this increase will be R1,200. “We understand there must be an increase and they need money, but honestly, R30 is too much. They must also meet us halfway. This increase will make anyone to work just for the transport.”
According to Stats SA’s National Household Travel Survey of 2013, low-income earners and poor households spend most of their income on transport. “Households from the lowest income quintile spent a higher proportion of their income on public transport compared to households from the highest income quintile. More than two-thirds of households who fall in the lowest income quintile spent more than 20% of their monthly household income per capita on public transport (66,6%).”
Thabang Mohlala, a Legal Officer at the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO) in Germiston, says this increase has come early and at a wrong time for their members who are working under extremely precarious conditions. “The impact of the lockdown on workers is there for everybody to see and this increase is not making things any better. Most of our members are working under labour brokers for very small money; they have no choice but to go work otherwise they will be easily replaced,” he said. “What is even worse is non-availability of an alternative mode of transport like trains, which have not yet been permitted to carry passengers. We appeal to the taxi industry to hold on a little bit and consult broadly.”
Meanwhile, the two taxi associations that announced this fare increase – the Alexandra Taxi Association (ATA) and Alexandra, Randburg, Midrand and Sandton Taxi Association (ARMSTA) – said on Tuesday night that after meeting with their mother bodies, the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) and the National Taxi Alliance (NTA), they had agreed to review the terms and conditions of the increase. The planned date of the increase was supposed to be the 15th of June.
A press briefing by ATA and ARMSTA on Friday morning at Pan Africa Mall in Alexandra will communicate the revised fare mark-up. “This has taken all the factors into consideration. We are coming up with a revised figure which will be way less and a new date of implementation,” said Gabriel Mataboge, ATA’s General Secretary.
Motlanalo Tsebe, ARMSTA’s Public Relations Officer. says the increase came as a result of government’s failure to provide relief funding for taxi owners. “Everybody as a result of lockdown and pandemic has been afforded necessary relief except taxis and we felt that a bit unfair,” he said.
Reacting to news of the fare increase, the Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said in a statement: “We are aware that some taxis have not been operating for some time now and that those which have been operating have been doing so at a limited capacity. We understand there may be a need for fares to increase but those increases must be fair. The industry must take into consideration the plight of the poor and the working class, who form the majority of their customers. Anything outside of that fairness is illegality.”