The taxi industry is painted with many negative stereotypical tropes, but it plays an important role in our economy and provides a key public transport service for millions of South Africans. Craig Arendse and Ihsaan Gasnolar look at meaningful ways of resolving the challenges faced by the taxi industry and commuters and how — through partnership, collaboration and constructive dialogue, we can make the taxi industry work better and harder for all South Africans.

The taxi industry moves more than 14 million South Africans each day, providing a critical pathway for communities and people to connect to government services, educational facilities, amenities, and opportunity.  

Minibus taxi operators play a crucial role in the fabric and system that connects our cities and communities and, importantly, play a transformative role in our communities. The taxi industry employs thousands across the country and accounts for an important value chain that has supported many entrepreneurial operators across the country.  However, the taxi industry and public transport are confronted by systemic issues that will need to be confronted to realise affordable, accessible, and safe public transport for all South Africans.

Within our transport practice, our approach is to leverage our values and principles to drive and support transformative work in South Africa, which extends to partnering with the minibus taxi industry.

The obstacles facing the taxi industry and South Africa alike may seem insurmountable, but there’s a silver lining: it feeds into an important process in how we shape our cities and communities. The role of the taxi industry in connecting society is undeniable. It is therefore in the public interest that the next chapter is focused on partnership and collaboration. Collaboration that enables learning and knowledge sharing, which also seek to share lessons learned and push towards a new model in which taxis operate within a broader public transport framework. 

The framework for public transport must be constituted by Government and must embody the characteristics of adaptability and responsiveness to meet the ever-changing demands of the industry, as well as the needs of our communities. 

Reform across the sector is already taking root, and South Africa is beginning to look at integration models for the taxi industry as well as how integrated public transport networks are designed, structured, and implemented. The taxi industry, much like bus operations, e-hailing, rail services, as well as private use, will continue to be a partner in this process. South Africans must be afforded the opportunity of choice, which must guarantee an improvement in standards, safety and experience. 

The taxi industry elicits many stereotypical tropes and preconceived prejudice, which becomes palpable when confronted with news headlines of taxi violence or allegations of extortion within the industry. Importantly, the introduction of pilot or incremental projects to partner with the taxi industry has been successful, bearing out the importance and relevance of our work over the past decade. 

The success of the partnership has introduced important milestones across the country. This includes the launch of various bus services such as the GO GEORGE, GO! Durban, MyCiTi and Rea Vaya. It has further resulted in the transformation of informal taxi operators into formal businesses that can manage their businesses, staff and importantly, continue to deliver public transport services. 

In preparing for last year’s National Taxi Lekgotla, RACS partnered with the National Department of Transport to facilitate the development of a renewed compact between industry, government and civil society. Improving services and outcomes in the public transport sector continue to be at the heart of reform, which is built on trust and partnership. We have markedly seen this commitment reflected across the country in the development of various transport interventions, including pilot projects such as Red Dot and Blue Dot in the Western Cape.  

Recent headlines remind us that the stakes are high. We, like many others in the industry and government, were saddened at the untimely passing of Mr Victor Wiwi, Chairperson of the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (CATA) just a few weeks ago. In confronting the issues within public transport and the taxi industry, we are reminded of his servant leadership and deep commitment to building peace and ending violence in the industry. These are the stories that we all ought to be championing. We must steer clear of defining the taxi industry by tropes and not lose sight of the fact that millions of South Africans are transported, each day, by taxi operators. 

Taxi operators are an important partner in enabling reform of the sector and in achieving improved outcomes and standards that affect millions of passengers and citizens across the country. Continued partnership and collaboration should therefore be our standard approach. We have directly witnessed the power of collaboration, partnership and capacitation coming together to improve transport standards, supporting reform in the sector, as well as the improved standards that taxi operators are embracing.  

The journey of transformative work requires deep commitment. RACS is proud to have worked with professionals, taxi operators, taxi associations and the government to begin to model an important alternative. An alternative that can become our expected standard and delivery of transport. The lessons learned and harnessed in the Western Cape will be important for the rest of South Africa, including all paratransit operations across the continent. 

Naturally, there is a need to confront issues of violence and allegations of extortion in the sector which may lead to violence, unrest, and instability within our public transport networks. But, we must begin to think differently about these partnerships and collaboration. We must commit our efforts to work with the taxi industry civilly to find meaningful solutions. We have also leveraged our peacebuilding and conflict resolution expertise to introduce early warning systems and create crucial communication channels that allow for problem-solving and the avoidance of entrenched or polarised positioning. 

By working smartly and implementing early warning systems, we can navigate the relationship and create dialogue to avoid conflict. These tools can be used effectively to enable more engaged dialogue and partnership and to counteract negative headlines about the industry, such as those accusing a specific taxi association of “taxing” other operators.

The stakes are far too high for us to fail. And considering that as South Africans we recently commemorated Freedom Day, we must begin to look beyond the headline-grabbing news and consider meaningful dialogue that seeks to build trust and foster and secure peace. 

As we continue to build partnerships and collaboration, we will be able to begin not only to reconnect operators across regions and locations but importantly, provide more people with the means to access service, opportunity, amenities and indeed, freedom.

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