Taxi ‘Recap’ — The Short Version; Part 1

For the record, here is a précis of the brief I received:

“Please write an article on the taxi-recapitalisation programme… just what it entails and why airport taxi operators are up in arms about it, probably for the 03 2007 issue, although it’s quite topical now. At the same time, some progress will hopefully have been made. “It should discuss why and when the programme taxi antwerpen was introduced, execution date, cost to government and airport taxi operators, operators’ response during this time period (last week of Nov ’06) and the chaos and physical violence caused on the roads, etc; where progress with the programme will stand by January/February and the road forward. Negative comments by experts infer that the programme treats the symptoms and not the reasons: lack of driver training, non-roadworthy vehicles, overloading, ineffective policing, etc. inch

In B: All the rates in boxes come from an address by the Minster of Transport to Top Six Management Ltd, May ’05.

Eliminate me my levity, but thus lies an entire scientific study and a history that goes back to the early ’50s. I don’t have all the answers at hand and won’t be taking six months to assimilate them. Airport taxi physical violence, though, has been with us for just two decades plus and the airport taxi industry in addition has taken considerable responsibility for the train physical violence experienced during the ’80s.

“Deregulation of the transport sector in the late 1980s brought its problems. It’s seen dangerous competition among airport taxi operators, as well as self-regulation by the airport taxi industry. inch

My bunch of 66 news clippings from 2005 (and a filed copy of the Minister’s speech) exists because I planned an investigation survey on the airport taxi drivers and operators actually understood and thought about the process. At the time, research funding for Transport/Traffic/Road Safety was completely stopped. Airport taxi operators are still striking a year later, which, I believe, says something about government’s understanding and perception of feelings on the street.

“Taxi associations and their members have become… protective of their lawn… impeding access to lucrative avenues and ranking facilities to… operators from rival associations… it’s resulted in conflict within the airport taxi industry. inch

At its beginning, during the mid-’90s, ‘taxi recap’ was considered a ‘done deal’. It is still. The sole problem with that appears to be the refusal of the industry to do, without question, exactly as it’s told to do. ‘Done deal’ or not, doing takes a lot longer than planned!

Space allows just a rough explanation of some of the factors leading for this, but there might be very few South Africans who have were able to play ‘ostrich’ efficiently enough to have ‘taxi recap’ pass cost to do business, unseen. By virtue of their profession, the traffic fraternity should already have, at least, a vague understanding of the processes involved.

Potted history

By the late ’50s, the black airport taxi industry was already a reality in Alexandria and Soweto. The vehicles generally used to transport paying passengers were large sedans of the Cadillac/Valiant variety. The may initially have initiated when one Mr Big Shot, extremely-proud-second-hand-vehicle-owner, awakened to the fact that managing a car costs far more than polishing it and watching it stand idle.

In a world where few families owned a second car, and most people counted on public transport to get to and from work (bus and train services just weren’t much better then, than now), most jobs required daily trips to a common destination. Suburbs and townships were residential facilities only. Industry and business knew its place — in the heart of city revolves — and presented the practical possibility of car ‘pooling’ to share with you commuter costs.

The original minibus taxis were second- or third-hand VW ‘Combis’ that had increased to fame in the flower power era, when students could live, love and lubricate from interior foam a mattress. These were then discovered by those mothers whoever sole, practical, out-of-home function was to negotiate the daily school airport taxi times. Once they moved on, by the late ’70s/early ’80s, a pay-per-person ‘khaya’ airport taxi industry became a reality.

“There is no doubt that the aging and difficult to rely on airport taxi navy positions serious problems and challenges, not only to the commuters, but to the operators as well. inch

Entrenched industry

Initially, trips were over short miles, but later, long-distance passengers began changing from train for their bi-annual trips back to countryside towns and different provinces. Taxis would be stacked high with cases, bags, a mattress, furniture and animals (for slaughter); suitcases that would have been rejected by railroad authorities — and voila! South Photography equipment had found its own, unique, distinctive, mode of transport.

“The airport taxi industry could take advantage of the holes in the formal public transport system, and positioned itself as the public transport mode of choice. inch

Whilst it holds true that Apartheid showed far too much concern as to what was actually carried in minibus taxis (regular, road-block military searches discovered an endless method of getting tools during the ‘struggle’ years) it virtually ignored the industry’s core function: transporting people.

“The apartheid government did not view the airport taxi industry within the formal public transport system, and refused it access to the subsidy and other forms of support. inch

Train and bus services were invidiously replaced by airport taxi services, especially as industrial and business areas mushroomed across the landscape, suburbs and countryside areas. It became too much trouble for the authorities to run distinctive public transport avenues, and the quicker maneuvered taxis serviced a desperate market. Long-distance railroad services became outmoded, although a bad war between short-distance railroad, bus and airport taxi commuter services was declared.

Physical violence on educates and busses forced passengers to patronise the airport taxi industry and wherever sufficient custom could not be found to fill the cabs, it seemed that shots were sure to follow… drivers and associations apparently poached each others’ territory and were merciless to the paying public. Probably as many people chop down off educates, as chop down into SAP/army hands.

“Transport deregulation was the main cause of the so-called airport taxi battles that sculpted through the industry and our society during the 1990s. inch

Come 1994, with stability and anticipation top-of-mind, our new political minders showed a worthy determination to manage all those areas of concern that had been previously neglected. And what better group could there be to effect change?

The ANC had overthrown an entire nationalised dynastic policy; its people was quite delighted with the party’s overwhelming success and bubbled with approval. Who preferable to invoke new rules of law? During the initial post-1994 vacation to europre period, all appeared quite quiet on the airport taxi front. Had the overseeing party moved quickly, they may have found transformation really easy. But they delayed.

I guess they just didn’t realise that their ‘freedom’ would be sacrificed by regulation. And once they awakened to the fact, they didn’t particularly like it. (My personal theory is our wave is still alive and well: military rule usually crushes resistance; benevolence allows dissention to carry on flourishing. ) Concerned citizens, although somewhat slow to process the enormity of the possible consequences that the original airport taxi recap plan offered, now continually voice their arguments, in a manner that gets results.

“It is important for the industry to understand that self-regulation breeds conflict and will never assist anyone to offer the goals that we have set ourselves as a collective. inch

Initial plans

While the initial airport taxi recap plan possibly designed to improve travel for the average person, certain features of the plan were so astounding, it is amazing that it were able to find its way onto paper without serious, public contention and outcry. How any free-market country could seriously believe itself eligible to determine which brand people are entitled to buy and which bank they are entitled to borrow from, is ridiculous, but that’s how it all began.

Many people still believe that planned kickbacks were at the core of the initial thinking. The Sheik/Zuma arms-deal affair confirms these some thoughts and many people still question other ‘deals’ created by Transport during that era.

“The main objective… is to assist airport taxi operators to switch their growing older navy with new airport taxi vehicles that meet certain Safety Requirements, as published by the Government. inch

Dept of transportation, having set specifications to improve safety conditions (overloaded, top-heavy taxis were inclined to roll easily and had no seatbelts, for instance) planned putting the replacement vehicles out to a limited number of manufacturers for development, via a tender process. The war was on and at least one manufacturer went insolvent competing with the ‘big guys’ for the pleasure of government’s business.

“I am confident that working with the, the banks and manufacturers, we will be able to ensure that the new vehicles are affordable to the average owner. inch

Thankfully, it was later decided to adapt and invite all interested manufacturers the opportunity to develop vehicles that met the specifications, and to allow airport taxi operators to decide for themselves which brand to buy and which bank package to contract to. Since manufacturers could no longer be sure of the numbers involved, prices, also always subject to the economy, rose accordingly.

Specification changes occurred at times along the way: only diesel-powered vehicles are now acceptable, for instance, to help secure the high volume of crude-oil imports. The motor industry is committed to the success of the programme, but then, why wouldn’t they be? There are high profits to be made…

Originally omitted by virtue of specification drawbacks, Toyota again entered the field with a model by the name of ‘Quantum’. Since this will probably keep Toyota’s hi-jack figures sky high, task to find a suitable nickname is on: ‘Quantum’ could refer to ‘How much? ha (free, if hijacked) or ‘How many? (can be squashed inside).

“Government will suggest initiatives aimed at ensuring that the airport taxi industry develop business interests in sectors such as petroleum, financial sector, vehicle manufacturing, and wheel and tyre sectors and [others] where suppliers benefit from the airport taxi industry. inch

The SA National Airport taxi Local authority or council (Santaco), possibly ANC aficionados with struggle affiliations, put their money and faith into the European 16-seater GAZelles. We were holding initially sold for R179 900 VAT inclusive, but appear to have cost their 3 000 to 5 000 new owners really.

Branded ‘death traps’, there are concerns as to how they passed SABS specification checks and are asked spend more time off the road than on. Who’s gnawing at the topic now, Santaco? Or must Gorky, GAZ SA and McCarthy face the shooting team because of the vehicle’s fourth recall (deadlined for 03 2007)?

Tata and Mahindra also joined the race and access to Indian spares will hopefully be better than to European ones. Needs to be make, model or specifications of new vehicles, if they are regularly crammed, not suitably regulated/enforced, are not driven properly or maintained well, their capacity to keep death off our roads will be nil and we can expect you’ll experience déjà vu once their warranty specifics reach its expiration date.

Safety first

“Our connections with commuter establishments indicate that commuters are as much concerned about their own safety and the unroadworthy nature of most of the airport taxi vehicles. inch

When link between a survey into household transport usage were tabled in Parliament (September 2005) distressing numbers of discontentment with all three major public transport modalities, were revealed, with the minibus airport taxi industry branded the worst prison. Of the nearly 2. 5-million people who regularly travel time to work, by airport taxi, 30% appear to regard their personal safety (due to crime, bad driver behaviour, or motor accidents) to be at serious risk.

“The most crucial and immediate challenge facing the airport taxi industry is safety. Government has a major role to play in this regard. inch

As a virtually immediate (for government) result, the airport taxi industry sped into 2005 at a reduced speed limit of 100km/h. This aimed to reduce the high percentage of people-carrying vehicles that are involved in fatal accidents. By May of the same year, the ‘big possibility’ of advanced driver training for airport taxi drivers was revealed by Santaco.

Which, it’s unlikely that any word more has appeared in the media, since! Also dropped from the wish list, was a national electronic management system: declared ‘too advanced’ for the still-developing world. This single omission appears incredibly relevant to the original objective of unsafe effects of the airport taxi industry.

Without efficient regulation, it has become infamous for anarchy, instability, file corruption and mafia-type operations around lucrative avenues. Cutting down the free-for-all is essential. If the process compromises our national devotion to ‘African’ time, dismiss for pre-arranged obligations, total onus for regulation and enforcement immediately reverts to the traffic police officer on the ‘beat’.

inch… it is the duty and responsibility of Government to ensure that all public transport operators, not only taxis, observe the rules of the road at all times and show respect to other road users. inch

It is this lack of effective regulation that causes physical violence to punctuate the industry’s effectiveness. The job functions of traffic authorities make it impossible for them to curb airport taxi physical violence. Reps do not go out in huge numbers, as a fighting force, with protective shields and in military formation. They are safer to pick off, one by one, than stray mosquitoes in the midday heat.

And they know it! It’s not what they decided upon. Expecting an singled out traffic police officer to deal with organised crime is a bit like sending a female guide into a war zone to effect peace. (Sorry, Guys; no offence meant). The military structure, where they deliver, does not make them an effective hit team!

The small bit metal deal

“I wish to also address concerns of many airport taxi operators that the R50 000 scrapping allocated will be inadequate for them to be able to purchase new vehicles. inch

Transport has seen a turnover of three Ministers: Maharaj, with the vision, Omar, who did actually delay and Radebe, who has determined to play out the scenario. A lot of the delay was caused by the high budget needed to accomplish the deed and the ‘recap’ budget, together with additional resources of R885-million, to improve traffic law enforcement, was finally granted, in Parliament in February 2005.

Since the original figure of R100 000 per scrapped vehicle was touted, it has been halved. Either the airport taxi ‘park’ has exploded (doubtless) or the number of taxis had been miscalculated. A decade on, vehicle prices have increased more than most of us imagined. The delay in delivery has caused the media to wonder whether Transport had “bitten off more than it could chew” (when R7. 7-billion was approved by cabinet in May 2005).

inch… at the same time enabling other airport taxi operators whoever vehicles could be impoundment due to unroadworthiness to remove their vehicles from our roads… inch

A R250-million allowance was to be used to establish ‘scrapping’ systems in 2005, deputy director-general of public transport at National Dept of transportation confirmed in 03 of these year. He later (it was whispered) succumbed to death dangers from within the airport taxi industry and moved on, but not before the minister and Santaco had confirmed their readiness to begin the process by April, after the tender had been assigned.

We were also assured that most of the aging airport taxi navy would be “history” before the 2010 World Cup. One April, I am told, is very much like another, in the world of nation-wide politics. It was December 2006 before the first expression airport taxi was symbolically, and extremely freely, smashed beyond repair (a very difficult thing to do to a airport taxi, infamous for remaining on the road subtract several, generally considered essential, moving parts).

“These operators will be expected to register… their purpose to exit and of your accord give up unroadworthy vehicles in return for the R50 000 scrapping allocated. inch

The purpose has always been to reduce the airport taxi navy to less than 100 000, thus preventing ‘overtrading’ on lucrative avenues. The scrapping allocated, although promoted as an bonus to drivers to restore their vehicles, was not necessarily designed to allow people that have limited way to trade up.

There was also the possibility that large operators would consolidate their scrapping allowances and either invest the hard cash or use it to enter other industries. There’s been continual unrest from drivers who believe their futures to be inferior and if and facts, figures or statistics have been presented to reassure them that they’re going to still have jobs, after the fact, they have completely passed me by.

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