South African Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula gazetted critical amendments meant to appease the taxi industry, which earlier threated countrywide protest action.
On Tuesday, 31 March 2020, the Minister of Transport gazetted amendments to previously announced regulations meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in public transport vehicles during South Africa’s 21-day lockdown. Under the new amendments, the morning operating hours are now from 05:00 to 10:00 (previously 05:00 to 09:00), and the number of passengers public transport vehicles can carry has increased from a 50 to a 70 percent capacity.
The Department of Transport explains the capacity expansion as follows:
“(a) A minibus licensed to carry 10 passengers, is limited to carry a maximum of 7 passengers;
(b) A minibus licensed to carry 15 passengers, is limited to carry the maximum of 10 passengers;
(c) A midi -bus permitted to carry a maximum of 22 passengers, is limited to carry a maximum of 15 passengers.”
The concessions by Fikile Mbalula come after deliberations with the South African transport industry, represented by the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO). Since the South African lockdown came into effect on Thursday, 26 March 2020, SANTACO has expressed great dissatisfaction at the government’s handling of the public transport industry, arguing that those employed in the sector were losing revenue and jobs because of the reduced passenger capacities and operating times. SANTACO also decried the lack of support from the Department of Transport as it relates to personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and disinfectants, which the regulations had mandated for the public transport sector.
The situation led to SANTACO threatening a countrywide strike, or so-called national shutdown, on 29 March 2020.
SANTACO has since made an about-turn, following the latest revision of the regulations, saying, “much as there are areas of discontent on transportation of essential services (sic), we believe there can never be a problem bigger than COVID-19. We commit to rally behind government efforts and intend to continue offering these services despite problems.”