SA’s Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has defended the decision by the government to permit the aviation and taxi industries to load passengers at 100% capacity despite the massive surge in Covid-19 infections.
During a media briefing yesterday to give an update on some of the transport-related directions and regulations, Mbalula said the government had taken too long to formalise the taxi industry and provide it with subsidies.
Explaining the decision to allow taxis to load at 100% capacity on local trips, despite criticism that it would lead to the spread of Covid-19, he said the industry would not have survived if it had to continue operating at 70% loading capacity.
He said taxi owners were not covered by the R500bn relief fund announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa and that the R1bn once-off payment which would be paid by the government would not address the losses incurred by the industry.
“We want no 100% and we want no 70%. We want 50% so that we can see visible distancing. If you were to do that… 50% in taxis, let’s confront the reality, where would the taxi industry be in the next two months?
“Who will pay their instalments, because even the banks we are talking to, we are talking to postponement of the debts? It is not that the debt will be written off,” Mbalula said.
He added that his mandate when he took over the transport portfolio was to fix the taxi industry and to regulate it.
He said that there were engagements taking place between the government and the industry regarding a subsidy, and the government would have to prioritise its budgets to provide that funding.
“This industry is the biggest in transport and it must be protected. Government needs to defend and support the industry. We are dealing with this issue,” he said.
Mbalula said medical experts had advised that taxis must not overload, windows must be kept open during trips, and drivers and passengers have to wear masks.
He also announced that the responsibility to sanitise public transport facilities and maintain social distance rested with the owners of the facilities.
Mbalula added that as part of their efforts to help the industry during this period, they had engaged with various banks to offer repayment holidays to taxi owners.
Responding to Mbalula’s comments about regulating the industry, KwaZulu-Natal South African National Taxi Council deputy chairperson, Sifiso Mthethwa, said they would not mind being regulated, but the matter had been discussed for more than two decades with no action.
“For over 26 years, the government has failed to implement that issue and now they want to do it during the Covid-19 period. We accept it, but not during this period because there are a lot of issues that we need to deal with,” said Mthethwa.
He said that the minister must submit the plans to the industry for them to add their input.
Transport director-general Alec Moemi said the aviation industry was also allowed to operate at 100% capacity, after listening to representations from within the sector and an assessment of practices around the world.
Moemi said despite complaints from other transport sectors, airlines were the first to be allowed to operate at full capacity because they were safer than other modes of transport.
“All aircraft that were manufactured after 1980 are fitted as a mandatory measure with a Hepa (high efficiency particulate air) filters.
“The Hepa filter has efficiency levels of 99.07%, up to 99.99, depending on which study you read, and its job is to remove dust particles and airborne contaminants that include viruses as well as bacteria,” Moemi said.
He said the International Air Travel Association had also noted that the Hepa filter was effective in dealing with Covid-19 even though it was initially designed for flu.