CAPE TOWN — The South African government “is giving urgent attention” to inadequate public transport in the country amid rising taxi violence, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.
“The taxi industry can and must play an important role in 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,” Ramaphosa said in his weekly presidential address. In South Africa, where the vast majority do not have access to private cars, the provision of efficient, reliable, safe and affordable public transport is critical to the people’s everyday lives, he said. Unfortunately, public transport continues to be plagued by challenges: some are the legacy of apartheid development, but many are contemporary and persistent, Ramaphosa said. He mentioned two recent tragic events that demonstrate the dire state of public transport in the country.
Last Wednesday, 16 people were killed when a minibus taxi collided with a truck between Melmoth and Ulundi in KwaZulu-Natal. A day later, commuters had to flee for their lives on a busy highway in Johannesburg when a passenger in a minibus taxi opened fire on the driver, killing him and causing the vehicle to lose control. The two incidents drew into sharp focus the reality that for far too many citizens, using public transport “is dangerous and can even be deadly,” Ramaphosa said. Many of South Africans’ experiences with public transport are not positive, he said. Those reliant on trains have to contend with daily delays, disruptions and prolonged closures of essential lines, Ramaphosa said.
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. Many people also fall victim to crime on trains, taxis and buses, Ramaphosa said. With many people living far from places of work, transport is very expensive for low-income households. A survey by Statistics South Africa found that more than two-thirds of households with the lowest income spend more than 20 percent of their monthly household income on public transport.
Later this week, the government will convene the National Taxi Lekgotla to chart the course toward a more efficient sector, Ramaphosa said. The purpose will be to seek common ground on existing business models, safety and compliance, broader economic empowerment of operators and the issue of subsidies for taxis, he said. It will also look at how to end the conflict and violence that continues to plague the industry because of competition on routes, Ramaphosa said. “Most importantly, it must emerge with a blueprint for a formalized industry that plays a meaningful role in the mainstream economy and is effectively regulated,” the president said.