- It is business as usual in Port Elizabeth and surrounding areas as taxi operators openly defy government-imposed lockdown rules by operating during banned periods
- The operators in Port Elizabeth say they are financially constrained and cannot foot the bill for masks to issue out to their passengers as demanded by the government
- People argue that all passengers should wear face masks to curtail the spreading of the coronavirus pandemic in local townships
By Joseph Chirume - Freelance Journalist
Battle lines have been drawn in Port Elizabeth and other areas between Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula and some restive taxi operators over his imposition of stringent regulations in a quest to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus pandeic.
In a revised draft of regulations promulgated by Mbalula, it was ordered that taxis should operate from 5am to 10am, and then resume from 4pm and cease operating at 9pm.
Mbalula said all taxis should be sanitised before leaving taxi ranks and that passengers in a fully loaded taxi should be provided with face masks. Only 70% of the taxi is allowed to be filled with passengers.
However, the Uncedo Service Taxi Association in Port Elizabeth expressed serious concern at the measures taken by Mbalula.
"The conditions are detrimental to the taxi industry. The taxi fee we were charging before has been low. It is even worse now because we are carrying a 70% capacity trip," said Mzanele Qwabe, the vice chairman for Uncedo Service Taxi Association.
Qwabe lambasted the government for failing to provide them with free face masks, adding that it was incomprehensible for the operators to buy a mask for R65 and issue it out to a passenger who pays R15.50 per single trip. He urged passengers to bring their own masks.
"We charge an average fare of R15 per passenger per trip to town from our townships, yet the government wants us to provide free masks to our passengers."
Passenger Thandokazi Maine, 54, travels with her own mask. Maine said she was afraid of contracting coronavirus.
She told Briefly.co.za:
"I am only concerned that most passengers do not have masks. This puts people under the threat of contracting the Covid-19 virus. It's the obligation of the government to provide citizens with protective clothing."
A taxi driver, who plies the Motherwell-Kostern route, blasted the government for enforcing stringent regulations without extending its hand to alleviate their poverty.
"I don't have money for all the things they demand us to buy. Passengers should bring their own things. We are being pulled over by police demanding us to comply with the regulations. I will soon stop operating or I will double the fare," said the driver without saying his name.
The driver's sentiments were echoed by Simon Ngcenge, Uncedo Service Taxi Association Regional Secretary for the Sarah Baartman region.
"We have never been approached by officials from the government or the municipality with these conditions. We watch everything on television. We are complying with other demands except for the issues of masks because our members don't have the money to buy them," said Ngcenge.
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