The practice of doubling taxi fares started on Friday, the first day of the lockdown, after the national transport department told drivers they had to load half the number of passengers they usually carry.
A Quantum minibus, which normally carries 15 people, can now take only seven passengers, while small sedan taxis, or amaphela, which normally carry four passengers, are now allowed to carry just one passenger, and taxi drivers are making sure commuters compensate them for their losses.
Taxi drivers said the government had told them that carrying fewer passengers was essential for social distancing.
They were also told they could only load passengers from 5am until 9am and then again between 4pm and 9pm.
Taxi bosses, who spoke to the Dispatch on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by law enforcement agencies, said it was not financially viable for them to carry half loads, thus they had no option but to demand their passengers make up the difference.
A trip from Braelyn to East London, normally R11, is now R26. A journey to Mdantsane from the East London CBD, last week R16, is now R32.
A taxi boss, operating in the East London CBD to Mdantsane, said: “We are asking passengers nicely, without forcing them, to pay for the remaining seats. It’s a ‘take it or leave it’ situation. We load passengers who are in a hurry. If we do what the government says we must do, it is no different to working for nothing. We also have families to feed. A trip with three passengers in a seven-seater taxi does not make financial sense.”
Provincial transport department spokesperson Unathi Binqose said taxi drivers failing to adhere to the government’s call should rather stay off the road than load passengers.
Binqose said nowhere did the government say taxi drivers “should supplement the money they are losing” from commuters.
“We’ve been calling on the taxi industry to work with us. We understand it is not going to be easy for them as well. They are about to lose revenue, but there is no way they should make people pay for the passengers who are not there. That on its own is against the law,” he said.
Binqose warned taxi operators to cease the overcharging immediately and urged commuters to report these drivers to the police.
“It is not acceptable and we call on operators to refrain from that. Their conduct is no different from those who exploit the situation, inflating prices. That conduct is criminal and will be acted against.”