PUBLIC transport operators have given the government until tomorrow to address their grievances, failing which they will strike.
The taxi operators are particularly aggrieved by the government’s failure to cushion them for losses they continue to incur due to the public health regulations limiting the number of passengers they are allowed to carry in their vehicles.
The forced reductions in the numbers of passengers in taxis and other public transport vehicles is aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19. This has however, reduced the profitability of the industry. The public transport owners had hoped the government would cushion them against the losses as it had done with others such as vendors and factory workers who were also affected by the imposition of public health regulations in response to the pandemic.
Having gone a year without any relief assistance, the operators last week met with National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) officials and Transport Minister Tšoeu Mokeretla for talks aimed at securing an agreement to allow them to carry full loads of passengers.
Maseru Regional Taxi Operators (MRTO) spokesperson, Lebohang Moea, yesterday said the talks had failed to yield the desired results. Mr Moea said since the government was unwilling to allow them to carry the full complement of passengers, it should at least reduce their taxes to cushion them against losses. He said the government had up to tomorrow to comply with their latest demands or they would withdraw their vehicles from the roads.
“We are convinced that NACOSEC and the government are not willing to reverse the decision to bar us from carrying the full loads of passengers,” Mr Moea told the Lesotho Times.
“We now want the government to reduce our taxes since our businesses have been affected and we are not operating at full capacity.
“We also want the government to reverse the new charges it imposed last year at the traffic department for licences and various services. It must also increase the transport fares since NACOSEC is not willing to listen to any of our issues. Failure to do so will leave us with no option but to remove our vehicles from the roads,” Mr Moea said.
The taxi operators accuse the government of unfairly leaving them out on relief assistance yet they were equally affected by the Covid-19 induced restrictions just like other sectors that had received state help. Vendors and factory workers have received relief payments to cushion them for the loss of earnings due to the lockdown restrictions.
“Day in, day out, we are running losses just like the vendors and other businesses which were affected by the public health regulations. But life continues as normal for NACOSEC, the government and its employees. They don’t know the pain of sustained losses and they want us to continue suffering the losses.
“If they would not have not addressed our grievances by Friday, we shall meet with taxi operators from all the other districts to finalise the dates for our strike,” Mr Moea said.
Meanwhile, NACOSEC’s chief of staff, Thabo Ntoi, said the decision to bar taxis from carrying full loads of passengers would not be reversed while Covid-19 persisted.
“This decision cannot be reversed because lives are at stake. We have lost many lives and we can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that ferrying passengers in congested cars can be a super spreader.
“While we understand their (taxi operators’) predicament, we can’t risk losing more lives like we did in January when the infections and deaths increased exponentially.
“Allowing taxis to load to full capacity would be as good as giving them a licence to kill and it is unfair for them to arm-twist the government to allow them to operate normally when things are not normal,” said Mr Ntoi.
To date, Lesotho has recorded 10525 infections and 309 deaths since the first Covid-19 case was detected on 13 May 2020.