Minister on Taxi Recapitalisation & Bus Accidents: briefing

NCOP Public Services

28 February 2000
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Meeting report

MINISTER DULLAH OMAR ON TAXI RECAPITALISATION

PUBLIC SERVICE SELECT COMMITTEE
29 February 2000
TAXI RECAPITALISATION AND BUS ACCIDENTS: BRIEFING BY MINISTER DULLAH OMAR

Documents Handed Out:
Minister of Transport Dullah Omar briefing

SUMMARY
The Taxi Recapitalisation project was discussed. Issues such as the registration, specifications and safety of taxis were focused on. Short-listing for tenders had occurred and the winning bids would be named by April-May 2000. Stricter law enforcement measures and the latest technology in vehicle monitoring were in the pipeline. Taxi violence, the high percentage of taxi-related accidents and disobedience of the rules of the road were some of the main motivating factors for introducing the project which was part of a broader economic empowerment program. The issue of the recent spate of bus accidents and the measures taken to identify and combat this problem was also discussed.

MINUTES
The Minister of Transport, Dullah Omar briefed the committee on the Taxi Recapitlisation Project and Road Safety:

Taxi Recapitalisation Project
Introduction
Although more than 60% of our people depend on Mini Bus Taxis to cater for their transport needs, the decline in the use of rail transport has to be arrested and rail transport has to be made the preferred method.

The mini bus taxi industry is overwhelmingly a black run industry which has never been subsidized.

The industry provides a valuable service. But there are also problems:
(i) Many are not registered.
(ii) The industry is not properly formalized.
(iii) Regulation is weak.
(iv) There is often conflict and violence as a result of rivalry and groupings imposing their will over others.
(v) Coercion and extortion is prevalent in some areas.
(vi) Many drivers have to work long hours under constant pressure and poor conditions.
(vii) Whilst some drivers obey rules of the road, others do not.
(viii) There are many taxi related accidents and fatalities.

Transformation of the Mini Bus Taxi Industry is Government's objective
(i) There is in place a programme to formalize the taxi industry and to legalize and register all qualified taxi operators.

(ii) The plan includes the proper regulation of the industry to control who is entitled to ply for hire. Only those holding valid permissions will be allowed to operate, but then only on routes authorized.

(iii) The programme includes training for operators and drivers on taxi management, driving, road safety, law compliance etc.

(iv) The current ageing taxi fleet should be replaced by 18 and 35 seater specially built vehicles (for safety and efficiency) and in a phased manner over a period of 4 to 5 years. In a once-off programme government will assist operators to acquire the new vehicles. The state will not take over any vehicles. The new vehicles will remain the property of the operator. Government will help by providing a cash amount in exchange for the old vehicle which amount (perhaps Ri 5000 to R20000) must be used as part deposit on a new vehicle. Choice of vehicle is that of the owner.

The current position is that a number of manufacturing companies have been shortlisted. The process of naming the winning bids will be completed by April - May this year and the first vehicles should enter the scene by the end of this year.

(v) The plan includes strict law enforcement. It is hoped to engage a number of new recruits to be trained in law enforcement functions in respect of the minibus taxi industry wherever the programme is rolled out.

(vi) The concerns of drivers and other workers are being addressed through consultations with roleplayers, including trade unions representing drivers/workers. T.G.W.U. participates in such discussions. A workshop to discuss worker concerns takes place in the next 1 0 days. This is a follow up on previous meetings.

NATDO met with the Minister and Department and was invited to participate and outline its concerns. It has not taken advantage of our offers. A letter has been written to the Minister of Safety and Security asking for tough action to be taken against anyone using violence or intimidation or acting unlawfully.
Despite the offer to listen to NATDO's concerns, it has chosen to confront the President and Government with ultimatums, which we have rejected.

As we indicated to other unions, we are looking at steps to protect drivers and other workers in respect of their jobs, their pay, driving hours, training and conditions of work. We have already approached the Minister of Labour. We pointed out to NATDO that it is not government, which employs drivers. It is taxi owners. Therefore SATACO should be approached by the unions. Government will facilitate discussions.

(vii) Early in the process, it was agreed between Government and taxi associations that the industry must be democratized. Provincial Councils and the national structure (SATACO) must be democratized. Leaders must be elected so that SATACO can genuinely claim to be the recognized mouthpiece of the industry. SATACO in co-operation with government is organising roadshows in all provinces to explain its role and to announce elections for a new leadership (in June/July 2000).

(viii) There is also the issue of the environment. The question has arisen because of the proposal to use diesel fuel. Government is firmly of the view that all vehicles must comply with internationally accepted norms, so as to ensure that pollution through emissions are well within acceptable limits.

(ix) The legislative framework to regulate the industry effectively has been prepared in consultation with all provincial governments. The National Land Transport Transition Bill currently before parliament must be passed by Parliament soon to facilitate implementation of the plan.

Conclusion
The plan is very ambitious and depends for success on all the processes being implemented. Great progress has been made, but it is important to win maximum support in the industry and the public and to communicate effectively what the government plans are to transform the industry and make it a model for development and economic empowerment at many local levels throughout the country.

The Chairperson wanted to know whether the Minister would have time to tackle the Land Transport Transition Bill . Because of time constraints the minister could not discuss this but instead briefly referred to the spate of recent Bus Accidents.

Bus Accidents
In the space of one month between September and October 1999 there were 10 bus accidents in which 110 people were killed and 108 people were seriously injured. As a result of cooperation between the bus industry, bus drivers and the action taken by the Department to reduce the speed limit, to a maximum of 100 kilometers per hour there were very few accidents until the 23rd of January 2000. Unfortunately on this date there was an accident on the R61 near Queenstown where there was a terrible accident in which 27 people were killed.
Drivers and bus owners had to be complimented since during the holiday period they generally acted in a responsible manner.

It was felt that it was necessary for specialised experts to investigate the causes of these accidents. After all these accidents, the CSIR was asked to send a team of experts to investigate these accidents. Although there was no final report as yet, there was some kind of indication on the causes. Invariably these accidents were caused through bad driver behaviour. In some cases the vehicles were also not in good condition, for example the brakes were not good or the vehicles were not in roadworthy condition. In the case of the bus accident in Pretoria, the allegation was that the bus did not have a certificate of fitness. Since this matter, and others were still sub-judicae he did not want to speculate on the precise causes but after the final reports on these matters, they would be dealt with. In the department there was a special task team with representatives from the bus industry, to look at the causes of the accidents. In September there was a summit involving bus owners and the unions. A further summit was envisaged where all role players would speak together, to evaluate what the causes of the accidents were and what could be done together to minimise the number of accidents.

The Arive Alive campaign has been evaluated. It was a useful and important campaign which needed to be intensified. It however also had its limitations. One of the limitations was that it focused on holiday periods. The objective of an Arive Alive campaign was to change the attitude and behaviour of road users. This was not a road safety program. There had to be a national road safety program. One element of this program would be the Arrive Alive campaign but it could not be a substitute for the program. The arrive alive campaign would for example encourage vehicle fitness, but the state would have to have functional vehicle testing stations to ensure that this was the case. Unfortunately there was corruption at testing stations. This had to be eliminated. People had to be trained and vehicles had to be properly tested.

Secondly there had to be effective law enforcement. If a vehicle was not fit to be on the road it had to be taken off the road. With vehicle fitness there was a greater responsibility on bus owners and taxi drivers to have their vehicles fit to be on the road. Perhaps modern technology could be used in this regard, for example a black box in busses which monitored brakes steering and lights for example. Speed as a main contributor to accidents was also looked at. Tougher sanctions for speeding was being considered.

Discussion
The chairperson, Ms P Majodina, commented, contrary to a view held by many, that the topic of the restructuring of the taxi industry was a controversial one, it was not. She pointed out that more than 60% of South Africans used taxis and it was a reality that lives were lost almost everyday in collisions involving taxis. These minibus taxis were not designed to ferry people but the daily reality is that they are doing so.

(Q) Ms P Majodina raised several questions:
- With regard to the scrapping allowance, would a one-year-old taxi also have to be scrapped. If not, what would they be used for?
- What about the possible job losses.
- How will the payment of tax be ensured since it was clear that many taxi owners did not pay tax.
- Would there not be delays since larger taxis would have to wait until they were full before leaving.
- Is the long-term objective to have the same smart card for taxis, busses and trains?

(A) The Minister said that the scrapping of vehicles would not be a sudden event but rather a process. The idea (according to Minister Alec Erwin) was to start with the oldest vehicles first. One-year-old vehicles would not be scrapped now. The ten and eleven-year-olds would first be scrapped for example. Starting with these taxis the process would take about 5 years. The problem was that these vehicles were never built to be passenger vehicles. Thus even though they were still new a way had to be found to replace them with vehicles specially built for passenger purposes.

He said that the rumours that there would be 41000 jobs lost was nonsense. Should some occur, such people should be fitted into related activities.

There were those taxi owners who had registered voluntarily and are paying tax. However there were large numbers of taxi owner operators who are not registered and do not pay tax. One of the benefits of the registration process for the economy would be that it would also constitute registration for tax purposes.

In terms of delays linked to waiting for 35 seaters to fill up, he said that no one would be forced to obtain a 35 seater taxi. In the city, people would generally go for the eighteen seaters. The delays would not be any worse than they were at the moment. With regard to smart cards it was envisaged that they be used on taxis busses and trains, however this was a medium-term project.

What would happen to the old scrapped vehicles was that they had to be totally scrapped, taken off the road and broken up, so that they would not be on the road again. One could not do this with a vehicle that was one year old. This may be a good vehicle, which could be used for family purposes or as a delivery vehicle for example.

(Q) Mr M Sulliman (ANC Northern Cape) said that in relation to the registration of taxi owners there were still 10% outstanding. The problem seemed to be at provincial level. How did the minister intend to deal with this problem? With regard to the co-operatives to be established around the country, would every province get some co-operatives? Finally he wanted more information on the specifications of the proposed minibuses.

(A) The minister said that he enjoyed 100% cooperation from all the provinces. There were regular meetings, everybody participated in the discussion and things were done on a unanimous basis. The provinces were responsible for the registration processes. The success achieved thus far in this regard was due in large measure to the work the provinces have done. He felt that the 10% outstanding would be resolved in the same way.

With regard to cooperatives, five pilot projects to form cooperatives had occurred in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Northern Province, Free State and North West. The idea was that one would join a cooperative on a voluntary basis. It was open to all taxi operators who joined as individuals. Thus cooperatives should exist in each province. As a result of the success of these pilot projects, others have started. In Kwazulu Natal for example fourteen cooperatives have been formed, in Gauteng six and a similar process was occurring in the other provinces. The department did not want to dictate to the industry how they had to run, but instead believed that individuals had to decide how they wanted to do their business provided that they did so within the framework of the law.

In terms of specifications there had to be more space generally, specifically for parcels and luggage. Accessibility to the taxis and their safety and efficiency were important. More detail on the specifications could be obtained from the Department of Trade and Industry.

(Q) Mr A Marais (ANC Free State) said that one of the primary components of the industry was the commuters. When it came to aspects such as road safety part of the problem was a cultural one. What was the department doing to educate commuters as they stand anywhere and call taxis to a halt. Secondly in terms of development, did the minister contemplate cooperative partnerships between, for example, rail and taxi transporters.

(A) The Minister said that a major concern was the issue of the commuters. The South African commuters organisation and unions did participate in discussions on these matters. The cultural problem of the attitudes and behaviour of people were addressed in the Arive Alive campaign. More had to be done nevertheless. Community based education programs on road safety were in the pipeline. It was hoped that these could be introduced soon.

There was room for innovation and partnerships within the private sector.

(Q) A committee member said it was rumored that most taxi drivers were illiterate. Would this aspect of illiteracy not be a constraint in terms of realising the objective of recapitalisation at the end of the day.

(A) The minister said that many of the drivers were illiterate. Part of the training programme had to ensure that they had at least the rudiments of reading and writing skills. It had to be ensured that people did not get penalised because they had not had the opportunity of going to school. However drivers needed to be able to read road signs for example

(Q) Mr Suka (ANC Eastern Cape) referred to the allegations of corruption mentioned by the minister. He said that violence was periodically experienced in the industry from time to time. The police who had the job of dealing with this violence, were not successful because some officials had vested interests in the industry. Was there a policy in the Department to exclude senior officials and other public representatives from having interests.

(A) The minister said that as far as corruption went, it was occurring at driver and vehicle testing stations. There was corruption amongst some law enforcement officers who were accepting bribes. This was a big issue which was placed high on their agenda. Programs were being developed in cooperation with the police to address the problem of corruption. There were allegations that some police elements had a vested interest in that they owned taxis and some of the violence has been attributed to their participation. This was a matter that the provincial governments, as well as the department, was currently looking at. It was hoped that this could be eliminated as quickly as possible. Whether public officials should be allowed to own taxis was an issue which the parliamentary committees should discuss.

(Q) Mr Suka said that there was a rumour that certain companies who manufactured the present taxis and who had been left out of the bidding process, were in fact causing the instability

(A) The Minister had spoken to a representative of Toyota who had assured him that they were not involved in any of the mentioned activities. Toyota in fact wanted the Recapitalisation process to succeed and they condemned the violence which had taken place. They had not participated in the bidding process because they did not feel that they could deliver the kind of vehicles with the specifications mentioned. They did feel that there was room for other vehicles and if specifications had to change, and the situation changed, then they would like to participate in the bidding process. However they could not see themselves participating in the process involving 18 and 35 seaters.

(Q) Mr Suka said that the minister had referred to the revival of rail as the preferred mode of transport, however the minister also said that there were not enough resources. Mr Suka was excited about the prospect of having rail transportation to the rural areas. He wanted to know whether he could speak more boldly to his constituency on this matter instead of speculating on periods of twenty years or more for this prospect to materialise.

(A) The situation with regard to the revival of rail transport was very complex. There had to be a focussed policy on infrastructure development in South Africa. There was an argument for part of the fuel levy being put into a dedicated fund for infrastructure development.

The second problem was that whilst the minister could talk about railway policy, those who ran the railways were Spoornet and Metro Rail which fell under Transnet and this was under Public Enterprises. Collaboration was needed with Minister Radebe. However it was clear that the hoped-for transformation would not happen too quickly.

(Q) Mr N Raju (DP) complimented the ministry for taking this bold initiative to arrest the situation in the taxi industry which was "almost like a Frankenstein monster which has been let loose on our communities". He wanted to know whether there was any attempt to civilise drivers who had blatant disregard for the law as well as commuters, and whether there were any measures to ensure that they were in good health. There seemed to be no control over taxi ranks by the local authorities, since anyone with a "knobkirrie" could set one up. Would commuters have the choice to take Taxi A rather than Taxi B, which liberty they generally did not enjoy at the moment.

(A) The minister said that taxis did as they pleased but there had to be effective law enforcement. The minister said that the Land Transport Transition Bill was currently before the NCOP. One of the objectives was to enable local authorities to form transport authorities within their areas of jurisdiction, or to combine with other local authorities to form bigger transport authorities. Within such authorities rail, bus and taxi transport had to be planned. Under the road traffic management system being put into place, the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) would be formed. The idea of this corporation was to ensure that there is better road traffic management in the country, since ineffective management of the roads, part of which was law enforcement, was a big problem. The problem with law enforcement was that national government had no role. There was not a single traffic police officer employed by the National Department of Transport. Instead they were employed by provincial and local authorities who had many different systems. Through the RTMC a system was being created where there would be cooperation between national, provincial and local governments. The law enforcement system would be rationalised as a result. If the funding is made available it was hoped to train up to 1000 new people for law enforcement purposes, focusing primarily on public transport matters.

The department was looking into a system where penalties would be imposed on the basis of a demerit point system for traffic offences committed by drivers. Thus if a taxi driver persistently commits an offence and ignores the fines that he must pay, and as a result a driver has accumulated a certain number of demerit points, his licence would automatically be suspended. To have it renewed, he would first have to settle all outstanding fines. Thus very serious sanctions would be imposed which would result in people thinking twice before ignoring a fine.

In answer to the final question, he said that commuters should have a choice and should not be forced into a particular taxi.

(Q) Mr Marais said that a British scientist had come up with a speed-monitoring device which used a satellite. Would this be considered in the South African situation.

(A) The Minister said that this device was a matter on the table for discussion at the moment. Its feasibility was being considered. Whilst it was a very attractive way of monitoring the behaviour of drivers on the road, it still had to be finally decided upon.

(Q) Ms R Ndzanga (ANC Gauteng) alleged that in the past there had been corruption in relation to the issuing of taxi certificates. Would this be controlled in the new system?

(A) The Minister agreed that there had to be effective control and regulation of this as well. The current road transportation boards would be replaced, since they were not representative. In terms of the new system, the issuing of permits would depend on need - there had to be a need for a taxi before a permit could be granted. In addition, to prevent one permit being used for numerous vehicles, a taxi owner had to bring in both the certificate as well as the taxi in order to legalise the taxi.

(Q) Ms N Ntwanambi (ANC Western Cape) asked if there were ways to ensure that women were also introduced to this industry since it was clearly male dominated. How will the issue of the various disputes over routes and territory be resolved. Finally on the issue of "one owner, one taxi", could a person not own more than one taxi in the event that he /she could afford it.

(A) The Minister agreed with the fact that the industry was male dominated. The taxi industry operated in the private sector and could not be dictated to. Through structure like SATACO and the unions the issue of the empowerment of women and promotion of their participation in the industry would be taken up. The committee should monitor this.

The issue of routes had to be properly regulated since it was clearly one of the biggest causes of violence. Hopefully through the new system this would be controlled.

On the issue of "one owner, one taxi", one person could own more than one taxi.

(Q) Ms B Thompson (ANC Kwazulu Natal) wanted to know whether there had been anything done in terms of minimising air pollution.

The Department would have to consult with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. The use of diesel could have adverse consequences but it would be ensured that at least the minimum requirements in terms of international norms and standards would be adhered to in this regard.

(Q) Mr Suka asked how the subsidisation of the industry would work since the impression was created that the government would subsidise all new taxis when old ones were scrapped.

(A) The Minister said that there would not be a total subsidisation of all taxis. Instead the project had to be seen as an investment into the future.

(Q) Dr P Nel (NNP) asked whether there would be a system of medical examination as is currently operative in aviation. Was a medically qualified person on such a body.

(A) The Minister said that there was a health status task team looking at this. There was however no medical person on it yet, but the point was noted.

(Q) A committee member commented that there was a strong feeling that officials were involved in corruption because of low salaries.

(A) The Minister replied that whilst this could be so, he knew of very honest officials earning very little whilst there were millionaires involved in white collar crime. This problem related to a culture among people which had to change.

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