The history of the taxi industry is littered with gruesome tales of conflicts and violence that has left many people dead and families robbed of breadwinners. It is a history of struggles for survival. This is an industry that has pioneered its own growth and evolution despite difficult odds. Many initiatives aimed at forging unity in the taxi industry have seen the light of the day over the last few decades and many have failed.
This is an industry that has tremendous potential to become a model for real empowerment. This is an industry that generates revenue in excess of R40 billion per annum and consumes more than 2.1 billion litres of fuel per annum.
It is for this reason that shortly after my appointment as Minister of Transport, I prioritised the tackling of the difficult issues facing this industry and convene a National Taxi Lekgotla.
It is not my intention to re-invent the wheel and pay scant regard to the huge strides made by successive ANC Administrations in regulating, formalising and empowering this industry. We must build on the progress that has been made in various engagements with the industry and learn lessons from those initiatives that have not delivered the intended outcomes.
The first administration of the democratic South Africa initiated the National Taxi Task Team, under the able leadership of Minister Mac Maharaj, to find a lasting solution to the challenges facing the industry and to develop a blueprint for its sustainability. The final recommendations of the NTTT were a product of a robust and honest engagements with both the industry and civil society. These recommendations, which were a product of consensus between the taxi industry, civil society and government, affirmed the need for an industry that is formalised, effectively regulated and economically empowered. We have no doubt that these have withstood the test of time and remain a yardstick against which we measure our progress.
We are still grappling with intractable challenges that have proven to be bottlenecks in the transformation and development of the taxi industry. The National Taxi Lekgotla will be about re-imagining a taxi industry of the future, where it is a major player in the economy.
However, in order for us to place the industry on a sustainable growth path, we need to confront the challenges head-on and have a no-holds-barred conversation on the ills of this industry.
Unity in the industry remains a challenge, as violence and conflict driven by turf wars and leadership contestations continues unabated.
Associations remain unregulated and operators are not held accountable for their conduct through effective law enforcement.
Leadership of the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) as a recognised industry representative body is contested. The industry must be able to speak in one voice if it is to succeed in entrenching a culture of accountability. Unity of the industry is sacrosanct and central to any form of regulation or empowerment.
It is a sad reality that the taxi industry continues to operate as an informal sector on the fringes of formal economy. It is mostly not structured along legally recognised business units such as companies or co-operatives. There are instances where some operators have come together and registered companies and co-operatives, but this is not the general character of the industry.
Equally, the industry does not contribute to the tax base in the form of corporate taxes and is notorious for failure to comply with the labour laws to ensure workers are protected.
We have to admit that the regulatory framework remains weak and ineffective due to a fragmented approach in law enforcement. This is a matter that as government, we must pay urgent attention to.
The roadmap towards the National Taxi Lekgotla, which will take place on 29 October 2020, starts with the rollout of the Public Discourse Platform that we launched on 20 August 2020. Today we are launching the discussion documents which will inform the content of the conversations with the taxi industry, other critical stakeholders and civil society. Ours is not to begin another process, but to take what was started in 1995 to its logical conclusion.
Starting from the coming week, we will engage with stakeholders and civil society through various platforms that include all forms of media from print, radio and tv, digital platforms that include social media and webinars. We invite every South African to contribute to the conversation about building a taxi industry of the future.
Engagements will vary from meetings with the Task Team on virtual platforms to written submissions that will be considered as part of packaging the final documents for the National Lekgotla.
Provincial Makgotla, which will be held between 20 September and 20 October 2020, will be preceded by similar engagements at district level. We want the voices of every operator, driver, commuter and any South African who believes they can contribute solutions to be heard.
The documents we are releasing today are only intended to stimulate debate and discussion and do not represent any hard and fast position of government or any industry structure. The outcomes of these debates will inform the consensus that must emerge out of the Provincial Makgotla and ultimately consolidated at the National Taxi Lekgotla. The discussion documents are packaged along four major themes. These are:
1. Unity and Leadership of the Taxi Industry
2. Taxi Industry Empowerment Model
3. Taxi Industry Regulation and
4. Taxi Industry Professionalisation and Customer Care
Unity & Leadership
In tackling the discussions about unity and leadership of the industry, amongst others, we must have an honest and robust conversation about the key drivers of disunity and violence.
Other critical issues raised in this discussion include a discussion about a Council that truly represents all types of taxi operations in the country is critical and must be robust. We know that the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) was established following a process that started in 1998. When it became apparent that other industry players were not on board the structure that was established at the time, a process that led to the inaugural conference of SANTACO in 2001 was initiated under the leadership of Minister Dullar Omar. While this may be the case, we must engage with the issues flagged by the NTA and find each other on the shape and form of the Council that will command the respect of everybody in the industry.
The discussion document teases out a number of options to be considered, not only in the role of the industry leadership structures, but also rules that must underpin such leadership. One of these is a proposal that when an individual is elected onto a Council position, whether in the Region, Province or National, they must relinquish any position they hold in an Association. This will then allow them to tackle industry issues free from any bias, whether real or perceived.
In placing a premium on unity, the industry must accept that there is no room for tolerate of violence and severe penalties must be meted out against those found to be party to such violence. This may include withdrawal of operating licences for such operators and other harsh penalties.
Industry Empowerment Model
Our discussions on the empowerment model depart from a principle that says any empowerment model must benefit the rank and file in the industry. We must ask hard questions about the billions that government continues to invest in the industry in the form of the Taxi Recapitalisation Programme. We must have an honest conversation about who the real beneficiaries are of these investments, so that we can make decisive interventions that enable the industry to become the primary beneficiaries.
Various models of empowerment vehicles will be explored which include options ranging from a national company or a national banking co-operative that would be the vehicle through which the industry is empowered.
There are various models either initiated by the industry itself or government that we can draw lessons from.
As we re-imagine the Taxi Recapitalisation Programme, we must ensure that through this intervention, we emerge with a taxi industry that owns its value chain and benefits from additional revenue sources.
We have made a firm commitment that the time has arrived for the taxi industry, which moves the vast majority of our people, to benefit from the subsidy scheme. The subsidy scheme will form an integral part of our economic package for the industry.
Key focal issues in addressing the regulatory framework for the industry include:
- Challenges relating to issuing of operating licences, which includes long turn-around times despite the 60-day turn-around time provided for in law. Some of these are due to capacity challenges of the Provincial Regulatory Entities and the National Public Transport Regulator, which are being attended to.
- The industry has raised sharply the issue of government officials, traffic officers and police officers who own taxis. Their participation in the industry fuels violence and weakens law enforcement as they are prone to intervene to protect their associations or friends.
- The current fragmented approach which relies on the capacity of individual provinces to enforce public transport laws and weak support from the SAPS creates a culture of impunity.
- The discussion will seek to address the challenge posed by the prevalence of illegal operators. Out of the estimated 200 000 taxis in the country, it is our estimate that approximately 63 000 of these operate without operating licences and therefore illegal.
- Regulating e-hailing services is getting urgent attention. The National Land Transport Bill that puts in place the regulatory framework for regulating e-hailing services has been passed by Parliament and is now before the President for assent. Discussions about this sub-sector must bring us closer to creating and supporting home-grown solutions taking advantage of the 4th industrial revolution.
Industry Professionalisation and Customer Care
Our commitment to assist the industry to professionalise and develop a customer-centric culture has never been greater.
Discussions and solutions at the National Taxi Lekgotla cannot only be limited to regulation and empowerment. It is time the industry embraced a professional image and culture underpinned by respect for the commuter.
The conduct of taxi operators on the road displaying flagrant disregard of the law and the rights of other road users remains a pervasive problem. It is an open secret that self-regulation in this regard has failed. The discussions must give serious consideration to a penalty regime, which may, amongst others include a form of a demerit system similar to AARTO.
Shoddy customer service and safety of commuters continue to characterise industry operations. In building a customer-centric ethos, the rights and interests of passengers and other road users, must always underpin the future taxi industry we want to build. It is equally important that the complaints mechanism that must find expression in the Code of Conduct envisaged in law, must be effective with tangible consequences.
Conversations on the prevalence of gender based violence in the taxi industry have been muted for too long and this remains a source of serious concern. The discussions on gender based violence must occupy centre-stage and we must collectively find sustainable measures to address this decisively.
The conversation must also include safety of women and children in the taxi environment, with particular emphasis on the girl child. Out of these conversations, we must emerge with tangible actions which must include steps being taken by Associations and other industry structures to ensure that those who continue to perpetuate this heinous crime are brought to book. Further consideration will be given to punitive measures against these criminals, which must include banning them from the industry.
Training of operators and taxi workers across the value chain should be an integral part of the industry development and skilling programme. Interventions by various stakeholders such as the Transport Education and Training Authority (TETA), the private sector and government must be co-ordinated such that that are all focused towards developing a professional cadre underpinned by standards that elevate the industry beyond its current levels of professionalism.
These discussion documents are available on our website. Copies will also be available from our offices, at National, Provincial and District offices.