Taxi driver strike over BRT

Joburg freeways experienced bottlenecks yesterday because of striking taxi drivers. This was the mildest inconvenience caused by the strike. Commuters who usually rely on minibus taxis were left stranded, terrified or both. Why terrified? See the post “Taxi Drivers terrorise commuters” later this week.

No matter where you went yesterday, you could feel the effects of the taxi strike. But that is the whole point of strike action: to force the hand of the targetted/most affected to give in to the demands of the workers. This all makes sense, and things sure were slower yesterday. At my one of my local supermarket, the queues were much longer than usual, with notices all over the shop apologising to customers about the quality of the service on offer (“due to taxi strike action, we are unable to provide our usual excellent service”).

The people for whom this was much more than an inconvenience are those who rely on one or more taxis to get to work every day of the working week. For these people, the limited alternatives (buses, trains, walking) had to do. But if these commuters found these forms of transport satisfactory in the first place, they would not be taking expensinve minibus taxis.

This seems is an argument for the BRT to be fast tracked. The government has a responsibility to provide public transport that is affordable, convenient and reliable to its citizens and residents of the country. This is far from the case currently. As much as the government has done in the last 15 years, efficient public transport (as service delivery)would considerably increase how much money people have in their pockets at the end of the month. The government knows this.

Nobody pays more to get around than people who rely on taxis for travel. The transport used most frequently, and by the largest numbers of poor, working class and newly employed people effectively keeps them poor. Someone who lives in Yeoville/Kensington/Bez Valley but works in Sandton has to first take a taxi to Alex, and then another to Sandton. This costs approximately R25 one way. You do the maths. This young person then cannot buy her or his first car and flat anytime soon. It is a strange spiral that prevents young professionals in debt (students loans also take a huge cut of this group’s salaries).

Now imagine that someone else has to travel farther, in addition to the relatively newly minted graduate workerbee whose image I had in mind in the above scenario. Now imagine the cut from the salaries of another worker: the woman who cleans your office or the man who fixes things in your office building. Given how appallingly these people are already paid, why should they have to use the bulk of their salaries on getting to work? (When you think about the state of our public schools and hospitals you want to cry because these workers then waste money on travel that could afford them better healthcare and schooling for their families).

A middle class person’s petrol costs for a month are less than half of what the travel costs of the people I mention above, even if that middle class person drives a petrol guzzler. So the less money you make, the more you pay for transport. This is injustice, and the government has every right and obligation to turn this around.

As annoying as the digging up of roads and re-routing in the city are, I can’t wait until I don’t have to drive to get around in the first place. I am looking forward to being on that fast bus that is more convenient than the car I drive. All of us riding on the bus also means a smaller carbon footprint for the children some of us insist on having;) and enjoying. It means more time to read the paper, to have that extra cup of coffee, to listen to the voices of other people, to have a conversation while looking at your partner/friend/child’s face.

I can’t wait!

At the same time, I do feel sorry for the taxi drivers. But only for about 5 mins. It’s sad to think that the oldest Black business sector could be decimated sometime soon. It’s also sad to see that government’s approach to the taxi industry leaves much to be desired. What was the point of the disastrous taxi recapitalisation scheme if taxis are now supposed to step up and intergrate themselves – without proper discussion, consultation or co-ordination – into the new BRT and other public transport? Many of the cars forced down the throats of taxi drivers are really crap – the worst Chinese imports available which fall apart at the first opportunity, cannot really be fixed because there aren’t enough affordable, available parts, require different mechanics from the ones the taxi industry has been keeping in employment for decades, etc. I have always thought that the taxi recapitalisation programme was daylight robbery. It did not just take the rickety minibuses off the road. It affected most taxi drivers the same way – even if they had fairly okay taxis still.

Against this backdrop, then, you can’t blame the taxi industry for not taking government at their word. This is especially if the taxi associations have really not been briefed on exactly how they will be intergrated, how this shareholding deal will work, etc, etc. No matter what you think of taxi drivers, when you hear taxi association from different cities saying the same thing on different radio and tv stations, you have to wonder about what is really going on.

And, for those of us who are not entirely convinced about the increasingly pro-free market directions of government policies, the fate of taxi drivers – and all residents in the country – are the responsibility of the government.

As expensive as taxi fares are, taxi drivers would have a lot of support if they did not terrorise the very people they depend on. That’s why my sympathy lasts for five minutes. But more on that on Friday.


Posted on 25 March 2009, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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