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Minibus Taxis and Road Safety

Introduction and Background Information

The biggest challenge for the Department of Transport is the restructuring of the public transportation system. In South Africa public transportation for the poor is often depicted through gory pictures of minibus crashes, bodies of loved ones scattered on our roads. The South Africa public transportation system however also represents a model of successful black economic self-empowerment. It is the only sector where blacks control an entire sector through their ownership of the Taxi mode of transportation.

The minibus taxi industry is today the most critical pillar of our public transport sector. Not only is it the most available mode of transport, it is also the most affordable to the public. The minibus taxi industry emerged in the wake of the apartheid government’s policy of economic deregulation, initiated in 1987. From the early 1980s onwards, taxi operators began using larger ‘kombi’ minibuses that could carry up to 15 passengers. Until formal deregulation in 1987, such taxis were illegal.

Yet they were popular among black commuters because, unlike other public transport options, they: 

  • ran late-night services; 
  • traveled to out-of-the-way places; 
  • picked up commuters from, and dropped them back at, their homes; 
  • charged reasonable fares;
  • made convenient stops on long distances; 
  • cut down time spent in long queues at bus and train stations.

In the absence of state regulation, groups of operators banded together to form local taxi associations, which intervened to regulate loading practices and prices. It was not long, however, before taxi associations began to use their organizational strength to extract income, commonly through the use of violence.  Legislation was since enacted to provide for the transformation and restructuring of the national land transport system of South Africa and matters incidental thereto.

Facts and numbers in the minibus taxi industry:

  • Taxis are the most popular mode of transport in urban areas for the majority of South Africa’s population. 
  • The South African taxi industry plays an important role in the economy considering that the majority of South Africans are poor and dependent on public transport.  
  • The taxi industry consists of minibuses, dominating 90% of the market, and metered taxis active in the remaining 10% of the market
  • Public transport by taxis account for 65% of the transport total, 20% by bus and 15% by rail 
  • The industry consists of approximately 150 000 public minibus taxis. 
  • Of the 36 lives lost daily on our roads – 3 are killed in taxi related incidents 
  • The South African taxi industry is estimated to have a turnover of more than R16,5 billion  
  • The minibus taxi industry in South Africa is comprised of more than 20 000 owners and 200 000 employees.

Minibus Taxis and Challenges /Threats to Road Safety

  • The biggest challenge is to make transport safe, efficient and affordable.
  • Government has therefore taken considerable steps to regulate the minibus taxi industry in the best interests of public safety and to transform it into a more profitable business in which income is derived from a wider basket of income generating enterprises and not just fares.
  • Taxis are often seen as unsafe and operating in a way that is abusive to passengers.
  • Illegal operators in the industry have contributed to violence in the industry. 
  • A study done by the Automobile Association of South Africa recorded an annual total of 70 000 minibus taxi crashes which indicates that taxis in SA amount for double the rate of crashes than all other passenger vehicles. 
  • Detailed accident data is not available for this category of vehicle, so there is insufficient evidence to support a clear cause for the number of fatalities in minibus taxi accidents.
  • Minibus taxis are subjected to much more severe operating conditions than the average passenger car. 
  • Minibus taxis frequently operate at speeds higher than the limit to cut travel time in order to secure more loads or passengers. 
  • While operating at these speeds, usually overloaded, the stopping distance of these vehicles change considerably from the design, usually resulting in fatal consequences. 
  • The pressure is on the driver to meet strict daily requirements of numbers, both in trips made and passengers ferried. This in turn impacted on his/her earnings. 
  • In the ultimate event of brake pad or lining replacement, the driver would purchase the cheapest available as this has a direct bearing on his wages. 
  • Because the minibus taxi industry has grown rapidly in the last decade in South Africa, numerous replacement brake pads and linings are available which are manufactured locally or imported. 
  • Roadworthiness and driver attitude are the most important aspects to address in the effort to improve the safety of commuters in minibus taxis 
  • Government has acknowledged that all efforts involving the minibus taxi industry required a strong consultation process with all stakeholders in the public transport industry.


Taxi Recapitalization

  • The most widely publicized and certainly the most ambitious Government intervention in the minibus taxi industry is the Recapitalisation programme.
  • Through the Recap Project, Government seeks to challenge head-on the problem of an ageing fleet within our transportation system. The Recap Project represents a comprehensive re-engineering of the Taxi Industry with two major outcomes:
     
    (1)The systematic introduction of safe and comfortable vehicles for taxi commuters through scrapping allowance which will be an incentive for taxi operators to hand in, on a voluntary basis, the very old vehicles for decommissioning.
    (2). The economic empowerment of the taxi industry through a package of business opportunities that the Recapitalisation Project affords the Taxi industry to participate in nationally through the SATACO structures as well as at the level of the provincial co-operatives.

The Taxi Recapitalisation Programme should not be regarded as a quick solution. Government has recognized that the sustainability of this and other interventions do not lie ONLY in the scrapping of old taxi vehicles but should include all of the following:

  • Introduction of safety requirements for the new taxi vehicles
  • Scrapping of existing vehicles
  • Effective regulation of the taxi industry
  • Effective law enforcement in respect of public transport, and 
  • Empowerment of the taxi industry

The Human Sciences Research Council reported that the majority of South Africans support plans to replace the current taxi fleet with new and safe vehicles. Only 28% of commuters who regularly use the service were opposed to the recapitalisation programme. About 50% of those opposed to the recapitalisation plan did so in the belief that it would increase unemployment and result in higher crime levels.

Road Safety Strategies

  • Effective and visible traffic enforcement is only part of the strategy to improve road safety in the minibus taxi industry 
  • Recognizing excellence and celebrating achievements in the Mini-bus Taxi industry are other options that might enhance safe driving behavior

Minibus Taxi Awards encourage professionalism, safety and efficiency in this sector.

The objectives of Minibus Taxi Awards are:

  • To increase awareness by the community of the minibus transformation process
  • Increase awareness among drivers of road safety and customer care levels. 
  • Operators are made aware that they should ensure that they manage their taxi business better and more efficiently and adhere to road-worthy requirements. 
  • Taxi Association executives are inspired to comply with basic requirements of ensuring administration of their Associations and financial matters are in good order with the Provincial Transport Registrar.

The Minibus Taxi Awards is developed in consultation with the taxi industry and underpinned by broad based participation from users and operators in all areas.

Conclusion

The taxi industry is a key player in South Africa’s society and economy and should not be neglected. Government should acknowledge its vital role through adequate investment and by realizing a comprehensive and participatory recapitalisation programme. Road Safety requires the active involvement and commitment from this important transport sector and we should use every mechanism available to improve the roadworthiness of the vehicles and the driving behavior of drivers.

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