The minibus taxi industry is the lifeblood of public transport and plays a pivotal role in South Africa, supporting millions in moving towards opportunity, services, education and amenities. But with the many challenges facing the industry, meaningful interventions are needed to successfully transform the sector, writes Wesley Levendal and Amaan Phiri.

Reform within South Africa’s minibus taxi industry continues to gain momentum. Importantly, the winds of reform seek to integrate the minibus taxi industry within the more structured and subsidised transport systems. 

Notably, during the national lockdown in 2020, the taxi industry was able to continue servicing communities and passengers with interventions introduced around sanitising, open windows for improved ventilation, as well as reduced passenger capacity.

We have worked alongside the government and the taxi industry in confronting the challenges that COVID-19 has thrust upon all of us and have admired the resilience, steadfast commitment and dynamic thinking that the transport sector can harness. This commitment and energy are being demonstrated across the country and in pilot projects such as Moja Cruise in eThekwini, the Red Dot project assisting medical staff in the Western Cape and the upcoming Blue Dot incentive pilot programme in the Western Cape.  

South Africa’s minibus taxi industry is currently responsible for more than 15 million passenger trips per day. A staggering number — translating to transporting 70% of our country’s households, moving people from their homes to opportunity, employment, schooling and other facilities across the country. The reach of the taxi industry is extensive, stretching across the length and breadth of our country. The question should not be “how do we manage this service?” but rather: “how do we leverage and harness the size and scale of these operations within all public transport modes and systems across the country to support and create choice for passengers?”

The work undertaken by the National Department of Transport is already bearing fruit. We participated in the preparation and support around the 2020 National Taxi Lekgotla, which considered not only the role that the minibus taxi industry plays in South Africa but also how we meaningfully leverage and harness this industry in the fabric of our society. Again, we witnessed taxi associations and organisations across the country commit to strengthening existing services, improving standards, and ultimately addressing elements of violence and contestation. We have been fortunate enough to participate on the ground on many of these issues through our work in George, Cape Town, as well as other towns and cities that require specific interventions to avoid impasse and violence. 

Transformation in the minibus taxi industry will not be isolated. It has the opportunity to impact and improve the type of delivery and service that millions of South Africans and residents undertake each day. The need for transformation can also shift the relationship between various modes of transport, from e-hailing services like Uber to buses and trains. Our collective focus must be on integration and creating hybrid models and frameworks that allow for ease of participation and involvement. 

Our experience in the transport sector and across issues of alternative dispute resolution, change management and conflict resolution has highlighted the need for both a process alignment that is required to take reform to the next level, but also systems thinking approach. We believe that to reform and integrate public transport in general, that we must continue to work with the minibus taxi industry and all other roleplayers in the sector, which include passengers and civil society organisations.  

The roadmap for reform and integration across the full value chain of transport must be founded on:

  1. Collaboration and partnership 
  2. Fostering trust and accountability
  3. Effective capacity building and training 
  4. Implementing strategies incrementally and within a broader picture and frame 

On the first pillar, we have already witnessed a willingness to engage from both the government and the minibus taxi industry. This must be the cornerstone of securing participation and engagement — not just with leadership structures — but at a grassroots level, too. This pillar will not only be the bedrock of reform, but it will also ensure fair and equitable access and — over time — an improved outcome for the hundreds of thousands who work within the industry. 

Secondly, we must continue to hold each other accountable and responsible. This will at all times require honest and robust engagement between the partners that ultimately must work together to achieve improved services and outcomes for passengers, including all those within the economic value chain. 

We believe the third pillar is critical to ensure the long-term efficacy of any of the programmes that might be developed and implemented. This requires a huge commitment from the government considering that enough time and resources must be allocated to ensure proper training and capacity development programmes are implemented within all integrated public transport networks in the country. It is beneficial for these programmes to be coordinated provincially, regionally and nationally. And for key curriculums to be developed, there must be a demonstration of real commitment and investment in the reform and partnership. 

Finally, the challenges in our public transport sector will not be overcome easily but rather we have a path to walk together and following last year’s efforts at the 2020 National Taxi Lekgotla, we believe the opportunity is now.

The options for reform and integration vary across the country. These interventions must meet the needs of the people and towns at a local level. We are already witnessing important programmes across the country and we are proud of our role in supporting programmes that can model new thinking and alternatives that will ultimately move the minibus taxi industry forward and support South Africa in moving more freely.  

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