Minister of Transport on implementation of level 3 of Covid-19 regulations: follow-up meeting
10 June 2020
Video: Portfolio Committee on Transport, 10 JUNE 2020
Audio: Minister of Transport on implementation of level 3 of Covid-19 regulations: follow-up meeting
The Minister briefed the Portfolio Committee about the implementation of the level 3 of the lockdown directions which came into effect on 1 June 2020 across the various modes of transport. The Department will redouble its efforts in ensuring that the transport sector is not responsible for the rapid spread of the virus.
The Director-General of Transport summarised the Department’s response to Covid-19 and how it plans to continue providing support across the transport sector.
The Taxi Relief Support Process has provided an opportunity for formalisation of the taxi industry. The Minister said that the principle of taxi relief is set, but government will not just a blank cheque. Formalisation of the taxi industry is required in return. The Department and taxi industry are in negotiations regarding this matter. In the initial discussions there were no objections to the issues raised and questions of clarity were addressed. The conditions for a taxi operator receiving relief include formal registration as a business, registration for tax, registration of employee(s) with the Unemployment Insurance Fund and the Compensation Commission and the possession of a Taxi Operating License.
Members were particularly interested in the formalisation of the taxi industry, the compliance of the taxi industry with Covid-19 regulations and the state of the negotiations, which are still underway. Members questioned the Department’s assistance in providing taxi ranks with screening devices and ensuring the sanitisation of taxis after every trip. The Committee expressed concern on the taxi fare hikes which have been reported.
The Committee also raised issues about the passenger rail system which has experienced extreme vandalism of its infrastructure. Members asked if the vandalism is linked to the disputes between the Passenger Rail Agency of SA and security companies which had previously been employed. The Committee sought clarity on why passenger rail services had not been ready to resume as planned from 1 June, and what measures are being taken to ensure passenger rail is ready for operation by 1 July.
Briefing by the Minister
Mr Fikile Mbalula, Minister of Transport, thanked the Chairperson and Members of the Committee for the honour to brief them on level 3 of the lockdown. As the country moved to level 3 at the beginning of June 2020, with more industries resuming operations and learners returning to school, it is expected of the Department to be responsive in enabling mobility of both workers and learners. In order to do so, the Department must maintain a delicate balance between enabling mobility and arresting the spread of the virus. The commitment to the preservation of human life above all else is important in our constitution which enjoins us that the right to life is non-derogable and therefore supersedes all other rights.
The consultations held with industry bodies across various modes of transport have given the Department confidence that majority of the sector is ready to resume operations with strict adherence to health protocols. Over the previous few weeks the Department had examined the readiness of the sector and had satisfied themselves with the matters in place to resume safe operations. The Department has consistently emphasised that with working with civil society, they will redouble their efforts in ensuring that the transport sector is not responsible for the rapid spread of the virus. The level 3 directions which came into effect on 1 June 2020 demonstrate the careful balancing act of enabling mobility while arresting the spread of the virus. The Department has taken note of advisories from the Department of Health who discourage the use of sanitising booths, due to health concerns. They will not be utilised at the Department’s transport facilities.
Maritime Transport: There are no changes to the directions.
Aviation: There is limited domestic air travel for business purposes that has been allowed subject to restrictions on the number of flights per day and authorisation based on the reason for travel. The availability of port health services will also guide the scheduling of flights. The resumption of domestic flights will be rolled out in three phases. This phased approach will be guided by the following:
- Port Health capacity
- The initial period will also serve as a trail period
- Lanseria Airport has arranged Port Health capacity
- The move to phase 2 is informed by the current low infection rates in the inland provinces
- There will be further engagements with the industry stakeholders on the contributions that are necessary for Port Health capacity
Guided by these considerations, commercial aircraft movement will be allowed from these airports during each phase:
- OR Tambo International Airport
- Cape Town International Airport
- King Shaka International Airport, and
- Lanseria International Airport
- Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport
- Polokwane International Airport
- Bram Fischer Airport
- Kimberley Airport
- Upington Airport
- East London Airport
- Umtata Airport
- Port Elizabeth Airport
Guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus in civil aviation activities have been developed by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) and these will be implemented by the industry, with SACAA playing an oversight role.
The Department has evaluated the plans in full and have also considered non-pharmaceutical interventions as well as mitigation strategies.
Airports: Limited domestic air travel also means that flights will only be allowed to depart and land at selected airports in a phased manner as earlier explained. Only passengers will be allowed inside the terminal buildings, therefore no accompanying members of the public will be allowed inside the terminal buildings. Temperature screening will be conducted at all terminal buildings. No passengers will be allowed inside the terminal buildings without masks.
Inside the cabin, full capacity will be allowed. It must be noted that the risk of COVID-19 infection onboard a commercial passenger airliner is lower than in many other confined spaces. All our commercial aircraft are fitted with the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters. These are manufactured to the same standard as those used in hospital operating theatres and industrial clean rooms, with the same efficacy of 99.97% in removing viruses.
While the total air supply inside the cabin is essentially sterile and particle free, the biggest risk is if someone enters or remains in that environment, while unwell with a viral infection. This risk will be mitigated through the adoption of effective sanitisation and personal hygiene protocols.
The following measures will apply inside the cabin of the aircraft:
- no catering will be allowed
- no magazines on board
- The last row will be reserved for isolation of suspected cases
All aircraft must be disinfected before entering into service and after each flight. On arrival, all passengers must be screened as they enter the terminal building. Suspected cases must be referred to Port Health.
Rail: When the Department presented Level 4 directions, it has been indicated that commuter rail will resume operations gradually on an incremental basis, based on detailed plans submitted by operators. Indeed, the Gautrain resumed its operations at the beginning of May 2020. As of 1 June 2020, the Gautrain had resumed the airport service.
Through ongoing engagements and evaluation of PRASA’s state of readiness to resume operations, it is concluded that PRASA is not ready to resume with the Metrorail commuter service. The Department will continue to work closely with PRASA in assessing each line and put measures in place to achieve an acceptable level of readiness.
The Department has therefore revised the timelines in respect of the resumption of the Metrorail commuter service. The revised target date is now 1 July 2020, on the following lines:
- Pretoria to Pienaarspoort;
- Cape Town to Simon’s Town
- East London to Berlin
- Port Elizabeth to Uitenhage
Long distance trains remain prohibited.
Public Transport: With the increase in the number of people returning to work and learners and students returning to institutions of learning, long distance public transport crossing provincial, metropolitan or district boundaries is permitted to operate. The condition for such operation is that public transport vehicles are only permitted to transport persons who are permitted to travel between provinces in terms of the regulations. The time restrictions on all road-based public transport modes have been lifted. Public transport will now be allowed to operate throughout the day. However, capacity restrictions remain:
- Minibus-taxis remain at 70% loading capacity
- Buses must adhere to a maximum loading capacity of 50%
- eHailing and metered taxis remain at 50% loading capacity
- Shuttle, chauffeur and charter services remain at 50% loading capacity.
Drivers’ Licence Testing Centres, Vehicle Testing Centres and Provincial Regulatory Entities: All Drivers’ Licence Testing Centres (DLTCs), Vehicle Testing Centres (VTCs) and Provincial Regulatory Entities (PREs) resumed their operations on 1 June 2020.
The Department remains guided by the risk-adjusted approach of government and has taken a cautious approach to the measures easing the lockdown effects on transport. There will be further engagement with the stakeholders within the transport sector to find solutions to the difficult task at hand of balancing the competing interests and preservation of lives and supporting livelihoods.
Department of Transport (DoT) briefing on Covid-19 Response
Mr Alec Moemi, Director-General (DG) of the Department of Transport, presented the slides.
Preface (slide 2)
The Department is mindful that the transport sector is an enabler of economic activity but more importantly the Department is cognisant of the fact that the virus reached our shores via transportation, particularly the aviation sector.
Global developments since 1 May (slide 3)
The slide represents an overview of key issues globally in as far as transportation is concerned. It shows which countries or cities are going into or coming out of lockdown; the issues pertaining to the countries regarded as high-risk; it also shows opportunities for future openings of airlines which will help the airline industry of our country to plan ahead.
Total confirmed Covid-19 cases per million people, May 20, 2020 (slide 4)
There are 290 cases per million people in South Africa which is below the global average. The number of people who died from the virus is also below the global average. The recovery rate of our country is much higher than the global average.
Covid-19 timeline in South Africa (slide 5)
South Africa is the epicenter for the pandemic on the African continent. Most of the other countries have lower infection rates and significantly lower death rates.
Key considerations (slide 6)
No one has all the answers, the pandemic will be fought as we are still learning about it. Medical science and research are also advancing, and some of the Department’s own interventions are informed by this. The Department is using science, research and the knowledge available to make informed decisions, in addition to considering the capacity of the government.
The Department is also considering the circumstances unique to South Africa. Public transport, particularly taxis and trains pose a huge risk for people who stay in concentrated conditions. The Department takes an approach of caution and being gradual and incremental in interventions.
Interventions are premised on the centrality of the preservation of life.
Taxi Relief Support Proposal (slides 68-71)
The Department has made a commitment as government, as announced by the Minister to support the taxi industry. The Department has been negotiating with the taxi industry for some time, and most of the principles had already been agreed to and adopted. Amongst this is that this will become a relief support, as the taxi industry was proposing compensation for loss of income. As per the negotiations, it has been made clear that government will be paying relief and not necessarily loss of income, which is being done across all sectors.
There has been opposition and people questioning why the Department is supporting an informal sector that does not contribute to taxation? There are questions of why taxpayers’ money is being utilised for subsidising an industry of this nature? The Department has made their thinking known and why government has adopted a policy position to provide relief and to also consider the informal sector. Hawkers, salon owners and unregistered business are being assisted in terms of the available relief funds, and therefore the taxi industry is no exception and also needed to be assisted, with the clear understanding that the payment is an ex gratia payment, meaning that these payments are made with no legal obligation to do so.
The Relief Support process has provided an opportunity for formalisation of the taxi industry. Negotiations were held with the two entities, that is the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) and the National Taxi Alliance (NTA). In the initial discussions there were no objections to the issues raised, there were questions of clarity and engagements which were addressed. The conditions include, formal registration as a company, possession of a business bank account, registration for tax, registration of employee(s) with the Unemployment Insurance Fund and the Compensation Commission and possession of a Taxi Operating License.
The Department requires the reduction in the seating capacity and loading capacity for taxis. Interprovincial travel or long-distance taxis were not allowed to operate during the earlier phases of lockdown. Cross-border travel was halted completely until now.
Discussions are on-going with National Treasury. The Department is awaiting a response from the taxi industry to respond with their proposals by a Thursday [11 June] deadline. Recent media interviews suggest that the taxi industry is holding a different view, but they have not yet formally communicated with the Department. The industry had sent a letter to the Minister to the effect that they want to declare a dispute. The Department will be available for them to negotiate and take the process forward.
Public Entities in Distress due to Covid-19 (slide 72)
The entities that have been hit the hardest by Covid-19 are:
• Airports Company South Africa (ACSA)
ACSA has been affected the most. Despite previously trying to diversify their revenue streams, their main revenue is still aviation-related activities where they get money by charging landing fees, parking fees, ramp fees, and for processing of passengers. Their secondary revenue stream was playing the role of landlord and hiring out facilities at airports, they also generated income through their consultancy and aviation expertise services. In all of these revenue streams they have been hit very hard. Their consultancy services are not being utilised now. With the aviation sectors hit hard globally, there have been zero landings. For some time, there have only been repatriation flights. Domestic flights have only recently resumed, albeit on a small scale. Largely the tenants who have been renting out facilities with ACSA have not been able to pay. With airports being shut down, they have negotiated payment holidays for the rental of their facilities. Thus far, the earliest estimates of loss of revenue and income are in the region of R11 billion. The Department is negotiating with Treasury to seek a diversion and also a differentiated approach with a portion of cash injection, and also a portion of raising revenue on international markets, with a government guarantee in hand. The Minister of Transport will submit a letter to the Minister of Finance, Mr Tito Mboweni, asking for the government guarantees.
• Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA)
PRASA has been shut down since the onset of lockdown. With the shortfall in revenue, PRASA has been experiencing difficulties, such as not being able to pay pension funds. PRASA is being assisted by Treasury. The Department has been doing an interim intervention to give them some cash and to keep them afloat but there needs to be a long-term view on the restructuring of the entire balance sheet in as far as cash flow requirements are concerned. The Department is working on a financial plan to truly support interventions and efforts to turn the entity around. Covid-19 just became an added pressure on PRASA, which was already affected by the challenges it was facing.
• Road Accident Fund (RAF)
RAF has also been hit hard, but its debts have been accumulated over a long time. The Minister has directed that the Department study its debt carefully from an actuarial point of view, to figure out why it has been spiralling out of control, and to also consider the possibility for collusion or wrong practices. The RAF is a huge threat to the national fiscus as announced by the Minister of Finance. RAF is fighting for its long-term survival and Covid-19 is affecting it even worse. R6 billion has been lost in revenue from fuel levies due to the prohibition of travel. If RAF is not assisted with urgent intervention—bridging finance and a cash injection—they face the threat to run out of cash in no time and might not even be able to pay some of the already-settled claims.
• South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL)
Due to the prohibition of interprovincial travel, SANRAL lost its revenue through tolling. Covid-19 has made matters worse for SANRAL, the Department is now looking at emergency funding for SANRAL and was already looking at restructuring its budget.
Departmental Support (slide 74) was needed to address the following:
- Railway Safety Regulator (RSR), R15.8 million shortfall
- Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA), 95% decline of revenue which constitute R23 million a month with total request for a year of R330 million
- Cross-Border Road Transport Agency (C-BRTA), R104 permit revenue loss, for a year
- RAF, R4 billion shortfall on fuel levy due to less consumption of fuel
- SANRAL, R3.5 billion to start other Capital project, left due to less revenue
- SACAA, R300 million shortfall due lock down and no revenue collection except for limited revenue from cargo movements. the reserves will be sufficient only for 6 months
- ASCA, R2.5 billion.
Mr C Hunsinger (DA) expressed condolences and sympathy on behalf of the Democratic Alliance following the sad news of the passing of African National Congress caucus member and fellow colleague Ms Dorah Dunana Dlamini, who served in the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises. May her soul rest in peace, and may her family, friends and colleagues find comfort.
He thanked the Minister for the briefing, acknowledged the presence of the Deputy Minister, and thanked the DG for the presentation. He also thanked the Minister for responding to questions and queries during level 5 and level 4, as well as the Department, staff and officials of most of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs). However there were some unresolved issues for the Minister and DG to respond to and to share some of the information on a wider platform.
In terms of aviation, for lockdown level 3 particular procedures and processes have been announced for those who desire to fly domestically and even abroad. There have been many queries about this, where some people have paid for flight tickets and followed procedures but at the last moment the airplanes were stopped, often on the runway which has come to a huge embarrassment and also lead to diplomatic issues between South Africa and other countries. He requested that the Minister share the complications surrounding this issue. He asked why some flights were refused entrance in South Africa’s airspace.
In terms of the RAF, it is frustrating that the RAF is not regarded and declared as an essential service under lockdown level 3. This denies access to people who have queries, and a lot of these people go to the RAF offices because it is their only means of contact. He asked for an explanation as to why the RAF was not regarded as an essential service under level 3. There have also been severe changes to the functioning and structuring of the RAF, yet the Committee have not been briefed on those changes at all. It is understood that the defense lawyers of the RAF have all been fired. Court cases and interventions of all sorts have been engaged on. The Committee should get a thorough briefing on the changes that have been lodged in the functioning of the RAF in terms of the structure in the administration and how it has been functioning.
In terms of maritime transport, during previous stages of lockdown there have been major issues with access to containers, simply because containers are not distinguished between essential and non-essential goods. Therefore a lot of people had issues with accessing their own containers. In the meantime, up until now huge fees and tariffs have been charged for those containers still being stored and which importers have not been able to access. He questioned if any consideration will be given to either waive some or part of the huge fees and tariffs that have built up from level 5, level 4 and still at level 3.
In terms of PRASA, apparently security companies have not been paid and that has led to the extreme vandalism and total destruction of large sections of Metrorail and PRASA. He asked if it is true that security companies have not been paid? In earlier discussions, when looking at the 2019/20 budget, it was said that about R2 billion that was intended for refurbishment of coaches was used for other expenses. He asked the Minister for an indication of the readiness of passenger services as it is already a disappointment to many commuters. The lack of Metrorail services from 1 June, which is now postponed to 1 July, has also lead to the increase in taxi fares.
In terms of the trucking sector, huge queues are building up at border posts, especially at the Mozambique border which under current conditions takes three to four days to cross. It is really challenging for the truckers to cross the Lebombo border post in particular with no facilities, often taking three to four days just to get through the queue and over the border. He asked if the Department can consider any intervention to engage, to support and facilitate our truckers who are going through a tough time and who have carried our economy through a large way. It would only be just and fair for the Department to support them.
Mr L Mangcu (ANC) said that since we have moved from level 4 to level 3, he would have liked to know if we are winning the battle or not. Reports show that since lockdown level 3, there has been an increase in road crashes, allegedly as a result of the usage of liquor, he asked if there are any statistics known, and he questioned the level of arrests and what the Department is doing about this.
Mr Mangcu said that he has personally observed that there is very little adherence to the 50% and 70% public transport loading capacity, specifically in the morning. He questioned the level of compliance, and if there are figures or numbers to know if loading capacity are being enforced and complied with.
It was stated by the Minister that the DLTCs were open from 1 June, but the reality is that they were not open. There is now a lot of backlog because people have been frustratingly turned back in many places that were not ready. He questioned the level of readiness at DLTCs.
On the issue of PRASA, he asked what the conditions are that PRASA has to adhere to, that resulted in PRASA not being ready to open by 1 June. He also questioned how PRASA is being measured for compliance and what they are expected to do to ensure that they are ready by 1 July?
Mr L McDonald (ANC) mentioned that it is a very difficult time with the Covid-19 period, but it seems as if the silver lining to the dark cloud is that all the measures brought by the Department have actually moved towards the formalisation of the taxi industry, which has also helped the Department to legalise the taxi industry.
Adding to Mr Mangcu’s suggestion, he also requested numbers to show how many drivers have been fined during level 4 and level 3 for contravening the loading capacity of passengers. Mr McDonald mentioned that he had recently travelled from Cape Town to Bloemfontein, and from Bloemfontein to Cape Town, but had not once been stopped, asked or screened on the road across three provincial borders. He therefore requested clarity if the Department is assisting in the monitoring the borders or if that is left to the police services.
Referring to an article about R10 million worth of aluminium cable that was stolen from PRASA during the lockdown period, he asked if this is related to the security companies being told not to return and that have not been replaced. He noted the DG’s statement that PRASA was not able to pay workers’ pension fund contributions. He said that the Department must find a way to find money for PRASA to pay those pension funds, as there cannot be a situation where people’s pension funds are not being paid while they are working. It is of utmost urgency that the pension funds be paid.
He requested that the Minister and DG make a decision about the e-tolls, as the decision regarding e-tolls have been dragging on for months. He also asked if Autopax buses are operating during the lockdown period. With regards to the Department’s support to small entities, he said that the Department should not just give entities money to overcome their shortfall but that it should provide enough money to operate fully.
Mr P Mey (FF+) mentioned that policy should always be positive. He thanked the Minister and DG and everyone involved for the good work, as it is difficult times not just for South Africa but for the rest of the world. He said to the Minister that now is the time to work together to make a success of this beautiful country. He hopes that Covid-19 forces them to work together as different parties.
Ms M Ramadwa (ANC) referred to the taxi relief support as presented by the DG. She mentioned that there is a challenge where some taxi owners have sold their licenses to other people. She asked about the criteria that will be used in providing the relief. With regards to aviation, the Minister stated that only passengers will be allowed inside the airport, she questioned what will happen if unaccompanied children need to be handed over to the staff of the airport.
Mr T Mabhena (DA) said that before Covid-19, SANRAL had indicated that it was a well-functioning entity as far as revenue is concerned, except for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) crisis. He asked whether, if the GFIP crisis was removed from SANRAL, it would still be as badly affected by the Covid-19 crisis, considering that it has lost revenue in terms of tollgates and that it needs a cash injection of about R2 billion. He questioned how the R2 billion will be sourced. Will it be a government guarantee or a normal loan from an entity? He also asked how the Department will obtain a favourable rate in terms of interest and from which finance institutions? With the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) it was said that they wanted a cash injection in excess of R300 million, but after calculations the Department discovered it needed much less. He requested details as to what has been noticed that was different from the original request?
With the taxi industry, he said that some of the spokespersons for its entities were seen on the news painting a picture of hostility between them and government. They are saying that government is being confrontational and that the government is going to court to try and halt the fare increases in Gauteng. Yet, here the DG has painted a picture of continuous engagement with the taxi industry. He therefore suggests that there should be protocol for negotiation and standards of communication between the parties. He also raised concern about taxi ranks not having screening devices or temperature checks, the lack of hand sanitisers in taxis, and the fact that taxis are not disinfected after every trip. He asked for an update on how far the Department is with assisting the taxi ranks with screening devices?
Mr M Chabangu (EFF) reiterated that South Africa is the epicenter of the pandemic in Africa. He questioned what might be the cause of this, for transport in particular. In efforts to minimise the pandemic, he asked how the Department intends to control the health of drivers and passengers if they are found to have tested positive after the passengers have left. He also raised concern about the public entities who are receiving cash injections, especially to avoid them needing another cash injection in a short space of time, due to corrupt officials.
He mentioned that many driving schools in the Free State were found guilty of malpractices. He asked if the Department has any intentions for rectifying those wrongdoings across South Africa, because they are the cause of accidents and even spread the coronavirus because of non-compliance on the roads.
Mr K Sithole (IFP) asked for the number of taxis that would be benefitting from the relief support. He also said it was a concern that the RAF remains shut down and suggested that RAF offices should have been opened under level 3. He also expressed concern about the increases in taxi fares and asked what the Department will do as the commuters are going to suffer a lot.
In response to Mr Hunsinger’s question on permits that had been withdrawn at the last moment, the DG said that DoT do not control border management, that is the job of the Department of Home Affairs who render immigration services. The DoT grants permits only once a person has cleared his issues with the country’s immigration services on whether they can fly here. If a permit is not granted, there is no way any country will allow the flight to enter. The Department does not process the permits alone, there are other agencies and departments who process permits and give approvals. Where licenses are granted for the first time, for specific purposes or specific aircraft that have never been registered before and cleared, there is an independent licensing servicing council which in terms of the law has to provide the approval. The DoT first processes everything which is then sent to that council. Unfortunately, with Covid-19, people who are in distress urgently request a permit and want to fly almost immediately. This has not always been the case, but there have been some instances when those needing to be repatriated and evacuated from other countries to come back home, needed approvals on an urgent bases. The Department has been going out of its way to accommodate almost all requests. Some airlines want to continue with commercial transactions and jump the queue, despite the airports not operating on full capacity. There have been issues of lawlessness where people have not applied for permits and breach the airspace and just fly in. These cases have been referred to state security and police to investigate.
On the issue of RAF not being declared an essential service, in level 3 some aspects of RAF have been declared essential and many have begun operations. A skeletal staff at RAF were appointed to attend to the most urgent applications and most urgent payments. But one of the staff members tested positive for the coronavirus. So the offices needed to close and all staff had to remain in quarantine for 14 days. This halted all operations.
Containers come via the port from ships, but their clearance is an issue for the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Public Enterprises. Tariffs are not levied by the DoT, they are levied by the Transnet Ports Terminal.
Members had said that the vandalism at PRASA was due to the security companies having not been paid. In truth, vandalism in the PRASA network has been happening for some time. It has heightened and increased. There were times when it was contained but it has been an on-going issue. The reason why it is happening is because the rail corridors are open and porous, they are not fenced or protected. The hot spots for vandalism are close to informal settlements, where there has even been encroachment. Lines are being stolen and everything of metal is stripped. Considering whether the vandalism is linked to the dispute with security companies, a study and collection of data from December 2019 showed that, yes, there was a spike in the increase in vandalism and investigations are being made, where it is suspected that some of the security companies might be colluding with the syndicates that steal copper. PRASA is in the process of recruiting and running processes of appointing new service providers. PRASA has appointed a new security manager and proposals have been looked at for a new security plan. Security measures have been proposed for the protection of rail corridors, amongst other measures.
R2 billion intended for refurbishing coaches has been diverted [with the permission of] Treasury which stated that the R2 billion that was intended for capital expenditure could be converted to cover operational expenses that were necessary for PRASA to continue operations.
PRASA is now scheduled to resume services on 1 July. It could not resume on 1 June because social distancing measures that need to be put in place on the platforms in order to ensure the crowds conform is a big challenge. An administrative concern is that the last passenger census of PRASA was done 5 years ago, so PRASA does not have an accurate estimate of how many passengers it has per day. Most passengers on the previous system were people that used the service daily but did not purchase tickets [daily]. The platforms and corridors are so porous, that social distancing measures are a challenge without crowd control and proper processing facilities. So, to prepare, the Department needs to project how many passengers are likely to be on a train in light of the reopening at level 3. Then the Department can plan a configuration, and estimate how many trains must move at what intervals. These calculations, and physical measurements, have been done at the platforms of each station to ensure the social distancing measures can be followed as required. New trains are being produced that will be able to count the number of passengers coming into them. When the train has reached its maximum capacity of 3 300 passengers it indicates with a red light but no longer counts how many more passengers are entering. This is a flaw that will be addressed so that in future new trains, as well as those ones that go in for service, will be programmed to not only indicate that it has reached maximum capacity but to continue counting. At that point the driver can be notified to close the doors. Other technologies, such as cameras, have also to be put in place at each station, along with improvements to the quality and nature of stations, as well as other facilities, like toilets, for passengers and staff.
The problem of long queues at Lebombo border post is being addressed. The Department is engaging with counterparts on the Mozambique side to ease their measures. Ever since one truck driver from South Africa crossed into Botswana where he was screened with a high temperature and tested positive for coronavirus, Botswana is now insisting on a mandatory quarantine for all our truck drivers crossing that border. As a result, many drivers have diverted to the Lebombo border post and gone with a longer route to bypass Botswana to enter other countries. This has increased pressure further because the rest of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries have heightened their alert levels against South Africa and against truck drivers from South Africa. The Department is continuing with necessary negotiations to resolve the matter. On the request of Members to provide consideration and support to the drivers waiting in those long queues, the Department will immediately take up this matter to engage with sister departments to see what can be done. This matter will be immediately referred to the border committee that can assist in this matter.
The DG said the Department will return to the Committee with the figures, statistics and numbers that Members had requested about the increase in road crashes, the impact of alcohol and the policing issues, where operations have been, what has happened, etc. Information will be consolidated from each province, as provinces control their own operations.
As days go on, more and more DLTCs and VTCs are opening. However those that are not ready will not be opened. Each will be dealt with on its own merits. The DLTCs and VTCs all belong to provinces and to some municipalities and metros. They are responsible to get themselves ready for assessment by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) to certify that they are ready for opening.
The Department has been discussing the long distance Autopax bus operations with PRASA as part of their restructuring and review of their business model. Autopax in its current form is not a sustainable business. There are no intentions of closing it, but the Department thinks that it needs to be repositioned.
On the request that entities be given sufficient money for all their needs, the Department agrees but it must be noted that the Department does not have all of the money that it requires. Support for shortfalls will be given.
In response to Ms Ramadwa’s question about the criteria for taxi relief, the operating license is a validating document by which the Department knows the operator. This will be utilised as the basis for paying relief. Secondly, there are also requirements for the taxi industry to be formalised, therefore in return they will have to register for tax and register as formal businesses. In response to Mr Sithole’s question as to what will be achieved, the Department will solve the problems of the taxi industry. SANTACO has a ‘widow’s desk’ to assist widows of those who operated taxis and who have passed on. Now that the taxi operating license is registered for seven years, the licence holder may pass on during the period of validly. When that happens the license is not automatically transferred into the name of the surviving spouse (widow), so the widow typically trades illegally with the license of the deceased. Once the taxi industry is formalised and taxis are registered as businesses, then the owners become directors in the business, and when they pass on then the new directors can legally take over from there.
Even with the limited domestic travel, when unaccompanied children arrive at airports and need to be handed over, permits will be in place to ensure that such children will be accommodated with ease. The airports will provide for the handover of children at the door.
On the issue of SANRAL [debt] being downgraded, other entities may show reluctance to lend but it would make sense to arrange a loan from the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB).
The DG agreed with Mr Mabhena that there should be protocols for better engagement between the Department and the taxi industry. The Department is available and keen to negotiate with the taxi industry. With Covid-19 measures, the Department continues to provide support to the industry. In the early stages of intervention, Treasury arranged some money for provinces and municipalities to procure sanitisers themselves. The Department is still required to provide the screening devices. 20 000 screening devices will be bought and will be distributed quickly by using the taxi marshals. Where necessary, the Department will continue to provide support, especially to rural taxi ranks.
In response to Mr Chabangu’s question, the DG said that should a driver test positive, the protocols put in place should be followed. These involve the tracing and tracking of passengers based on the presence of their cellphones and where they were at that time.
The Department will safeguard against corruption when there are cash injections to entities. The entity’s expenditure will be tracked.
The Department is aware of increases in taxi fares, but current regulations prohibit illegal profiteering, and the utilisation of Covid-19 for undue hiking of fares. The DoT is not opposed to an increase fares, but the Minister made a clear statement that increases must be fair and take into consideration that the majority of commuters that use the taxi services are poor. The Minister urges everybody to be levelheaded and understand that we are in a crisis.
Concluding remarks by Minister
The Minister welcomed the inputs, comments and suggestions made by the Committee. He said it was quite clear that C-19 is going to be with us for some time. We need to adapt to the new normal and entrench education of our people for life preservation on all fronts where transport is key in terms of contributing to the containment of the virus. In this instance, it is critical that the human solidarity as seen in the Republic and reservoirs of goodwill among our people are sustained. We can only win this if we work together, as one Member had already asserted. There is no way that government can do it alone, it is all of our lives that must be preserved. We are not immune; people are passing away in big numbers and it is happening rapidly in ways that are unprecedented. Our approach is being cautious, looking at the risks, and to readjust. There is the phased approach as we are now in level 3. The Department is discussing these matters and the regulations every day, but equally the economy must function. This Covid-19 has wiped out the little that was there and increased our economic challenges.
Adding to the DGs comments about PRASA, the Minister said that PRASA is on track, even though Gautrain was affected by vandalism on its rail networks during the Covid-19 lockdown. Copper cables are stolen and cooked in laboratories and then exported to Mozambique and Asia. PRASA has been hard hit by Covid-19 and has not been operational because it is crippled when it comes to financial resources. The authority of the state is to ensure security and protection of the PRASA network which is a major focus. The objective of PRASA is to have permanent and sustainable security, which can oversee a combat approach in terms of defending the PRASA network. Security also needs to deal with the human element, that is to marshal the passengers and ensure that passengers are safe. PRASA’s postponement of operations during lockdown is to minimise the spread of Covid-19 and to prepare to be operational by 1 July.
The proposed taxi fare hike has shocked everyone. There is no way in this country that anyone can raise fares beyond the cost of living for ordinary South Africans. If it is inflation driven that can be allowed but it cannot be 172%. Taxi fare increases should not impoverish our people.
The suggestions of Members about the trucking queues are noted as important in the context of Covid-19.
There are now many more accidents on the roads and this information is being analysed on a daily basis. As Members requested, statistics will be given in the updated presentation. Opening the economy has brought back problems that we have lived with on a daily basis, such as drunken driving, problems of reckless driving, and many more accidents on the road.
In response to Mr McDonald, decisions on e-tolls will be finalised soon. The decision is at the level of Cabinet but was interrupted by Covid-19.
Like all other sectors, the taxi industry is also in distress. There has been a lot of non-compliance with regards to transport. The Department needs to work with the taxi industry, for example as they have implemented the Red Dot taxi service where taxis take essential workers to work. The Minister said he was impressed by this campaign, on which government has spent a lot of money, to get essential workers to work without a hassle. Part of the campaign brought in the [computer software] application that they are using to trace the taxis. Innovation is needed to monitor the compliance issue. The principle of the taxi relief fund is set, but compliance from the taxi industry is needed in return. [The industry needs] to formalise itself. Government will no longer just give a blank cheque on anything, government wants partnerships. This partnership will involve formalisation of the taxi industry.
The Department meets every Tuesday to discuss the input on Covid-19 and to look at the Department’s own programme of action whilst the economy operates at lockdown level 3.
Closing remarks by Chairperson
The Chairperson thanked the Minister, the DG and all of the Department’s officials. The Chairperson said that he appreciated the statement made by the DG that the Department’s discussions with the taxi industry are ongoing. It was a wish of the Committee to see this matter settled amicably. The matter of GFIP seemed to have been overtaken by events. PRASA is now downgraded. If this matter had been dealt with timeously a number of complications could have been avoided. The Committee wishes the Department well with engaging with the matters raised, and the Committee will support the Department with oversight.
The meeting was adjourned.