The amended regulations on public transport during the national lockdown will now allow minibus taxis to carry a full load of passengers provided they are wearing masks.
On Wednesday, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula unveiled the regulations, saying those operators that did not adhere to social distancing and sanitising their vehicles would face the wrath of the law.
The regulations, published in a Government Gazette on Tuesday, came amid threats by the taxi industry to embark on a shutdown as they were unhappy with transporting only seven essential (services) workers from 5 am to 9 am and 4 pm to 8 pm.
This was despite the taxis initially being allowed to transport social grant beneficiaries from 5 am until 8 pm for just this week.
Briefing the media on Wednesday, Mbalula said the amended regulations came after consultation with the taxi industry, Santaco, and National Taxi Association, and the Cabinet committee dealing with coronavirus including Police Minister Bheki Cele, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
“We were able to reach an agreement that guarantees the continuous availability of public transport during the lockdown period.
“We must all appreciate that the measures we have introduced to curb the spread of the virus are about preserving human life and not about individual, narrow self-serving interests,” Mbalula said.
In terms of the amended regulations, taxis should reduce the maximum licensed passengers by 70% with no masks on certain conditions.
“A minibus licensed to carry 10 passengers is limited to carry a maximum of seven passengers. A minibus permitted to carry 15 passengers is limited to carry a maximum of 10 passengers,” Mbalula said.
“A minibus permitted to carry a maximum of 22 passengers is limited to a maximum of 15 passengers.”
Private vehicles licensed to carry up to four passengers are now limited to carry two plus the driver.
Mbalula also said taxis could carry a full load of passengers if they were wearing masks – surgical masks and N95 respirator masks.
He urged all public transport operators to sanitise their vehicles and put measures in place to adhere to social distancing to curb the spread of the virus.
“We know that all minibus operators are sanitising their vehicles but we are emphasising as a matter of law and direction that it is compulsory that your vehicle must be sanitised even beyond the 21-day lockdown.
“To that extent the government is making a commitment to assist taxi operators with masks and sanitisers.”
Mbalula said he expected the masks and sanitisers to be rolled out to the industry soon. He warned those that fill their taxis with passengers not wearing masks that law enforcement agencies will stop them. “You must understand what you do will affect all of us one thousand times.”
The minister emphasised the need not to compromise lives in the transport industry since it was potentially the biggest spreader of the virus.
Mbalula also lauded the taxi industry for putting aside their differences and collaborating to deliver their services.
He has also provided grace to taxis in terms of picking up and dropping off essential workers. Taxis will be allowed to proceed to pick-up points an hour before the operating times without loading passengers. This also applies to dropping off passengers. Companies and institutions can make arrangements for the transportation of their essential workers.