Taxi operators threaten strike

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Bereng Mpaki | ’Marafaele Mohloboli

PUBLIC transport operators have threatened to remove their vehicles from the roads in protest over income losses incurred during the COVID-19 lockdown if they do not receive government subsidies.

The public transport operators also want the government to allow them to carry full loads of passengers as opposed to the current situation where they are forced to reduce their loads.

Addressing journalists on Tuesday, the transport operators said they had lost lots of income during the lockdown and could not continue operating that way.

If the government does not allow them to carry full loads, they suggest that they should be allowed to increase the transport fares to curb losses.

On 13 April 2020, Prime Minister Thabane announced a M500 million Private Sector Relief Fund to assist businesses that have suffered income losses during the lockdown which started on 30 March and ended on 5 May. It then introduced a partial lockdown from 6 to 19 May.

However, it is still unclear which businesses will benefit from the fund and what criteria would be followed.

In line with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) social distancing protocols, the government has ordered 15-seater taxis to carry a maximum of nine passengers during the partial lockdown. A 4+1 taxi is allowed to carry only three passengers while 65-seater busses must carry 35 passengers and below.

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The regulations are supposed to be observed until 19 May 2020 when they will be reviewed. However, should there be an extension, Maseru Region Transport Operators’ (MRTO) chairperson Mokete Jonase said they would defy the government by carrying full loads starting on 20 May.

He said they have resolved to these drastic measures after talks with the government over subsidies broke down.

“We were expecting the government to subsidise our income but they have not done so, while we continue to carry fewer passengers in our vehicles,” Mr Jonase said.

“We have tried engaging the government and we have not come to an agreement. If the government extends the lockdown, it must allow us to carry full loads or instead subsidise us.

“If the government fails to do either, we have resolved to start carrying full loads from 20 May and if we encounter resistance, then we will withdraw our vehicles from the roads starting on 21 May.”

Another transport operator Teboho Kahlolo said they were losing M45 per trip and M360 daily (for eight trips) for every 15-seater taxi. The figure adds up to M10 800 monthly.

“The figures amount to M64 800 in six months for a 15-seater. For a sprinter, we will potentially lose M145 800 while buses are losing M594 000 in six months,” Mr Kahlolo said.

For his part, principal secretary in the Transport ministry Thabo Motoko appealed to the transport operators to exhaust all negotiation avenues with the government before they execute their plan.

“I advise the public transport operators to continue engaging with us… I encourage them not to strike before ensuring that all avenues have been exhausted. The National Emergency Command Centre is already aware of their concerns,” Mr Motoko said.

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