President Cyril Ramaphosa hopes this week’s National Taxi Lekgotla will result in a blueprint for a formalised taxi industry that plays a meaningful role in the mainstream economy and is effectively regulated.
Writing in his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa said the lekgotla would seek common ground on existing business models, safety and compliance, broader economic empowerment of operators and the issue of subsidies for taxis.
“It will also look at how to end the conflict and violence that continues to plague the industry because of competition on routes,” he said.
Ramaphosa is expected to address the three-day national lekgotla which starts on Thursday. It is expected to bring together government, civil society and industry stakeholders and follows provincial makgotla that have already taken place in most provinces.
On Monday, he said the taxi industry has to play an important role in the government’s ultimate objective of improving the daily experiences of commuters through the establishment of integrated rapid transport service networks in the metros, cities, towns and rural districts.
“When public transport is unsafe, unreliable and costly, it also affects economic activity. Given that about four in 10 workers use public transport to reach their workplaces, these challenges have knock-on effects on productivity, labour relations and business functioning,” he said.
“As part of the programme to build a new economy, we are working with all stakeholders to improve the state of public transport.”
This was necessary if the country was to expand manufacturing, increase local production, stimulate small business activity and create more job opportunities, said the president.
Ramaphosa noted that a well-functioning transport system alleviated road congestion and reduced travel times, energy consumption and air pollution.
“That is why we are going to invest in transport infrastructure systems that will carry people safely and in a manner that will contribute to economic growth,” he said.
The economic reconstruction and recovery plan the president announced earlier this month acknowledges that improving transport infrastructure is central to economic growth and expanding industrial activity.
“As part of our plan, we have embarked on projects to modernise and refurbish commuter rail networks alongside the expansion of road rehabilitation and maintenance programmes.
“Upgraded transportation infrastructure, coupled with improved public transport is a key driver of economic activity,” said Ramaphosa.
Similarly, he said, resolving the challenges facing the sector was an important step towards transforming the public transport landscape.
“A formalised, well-managed, better regulated minibus taxi system is in the best interests of not just those who use taxis daily. It is also in the interest of the development and progress of the entire society,” he said.
Ramaphosa cited 2015 figures, which show that about two-thirds of households who use public transport travel by minibus taxi. A quarter travel by bus and 10% by train. He said in a country where the vast majority do not have access to private cars, efficient, reliable, safe and affordable public transport was critical to people’s everyday lives.
He acknowledged the many challenges; some he said were a legacy of apartheid development, but many are contemporary and persistent.
“Many of our people’s experiences with public transport are not positive. Those reliant on trains have to contend with daily delays, disruptions and prolonged closures of essential lines.
“Furthermore, rail infrastructure in most cities only covers older parts of cities and has not kept up with new city development,” he said.
Unroadworthy vehicles, unsafe driving, speeding, overloading and other practices are persistent problems in the taxi industry, he said, adding that many people fall victim to crime on trains, taxis and buses.
Ramaphosa said since taxis are the primary means of public transit for people across all provinces, his government is giving urgent attention to the problems in the industry.