The scramble for passengers

MASERU — When it was all done a taxi owner had been stabbed by a screwdriver and his car had been rammed into.

He had used his bare hands to defend himself.

Two days before, a rank marshal had been run over by a taxi as he tried to maintain order at Qoaling bus stop.

Welcome to the world of taxi wars.

The battle is over passengers.

The feud has been going on for years and along the way battles have been fought with stones, sticks, sjamboks and spanners and even more dangerous weapons like guns.

In this fury, cars too have been used as weapons.

Stories have been told of how, in a feat of anger, some taxi drivers have rammed their cars into other taxis.

Statistics of casualties are hard to come by yet there is no doubt that a number of taxi drivers have lost their lives while others bear scars of these road battles.

Passengers have also not been spared.

With each battle the hatred between rival taxi groups has intensified.

Revenge too has come into play.

Last week was particularly bad for the industry.

In just five days a rank marshal was hit by a taxi, a taxi driver was beaten to a pulp and a taxi owner was stabbed with a screwdriver.

The taxi operator was stabbed in Qoaling after he confronted a taxi driver who was allegedly picking passengers without a government permit.

For daring to confront the driver Mohlomi Malia, whose minibuses operate on the Qoaling route, was viciously attacked with a screwdriver.

Malia says he is lucky to be alive because he managed to block the weapon with his hands.

Still he suffered deep gushes on his hands and had to spend hours at the hospital.

Taxis should have a D-permit and a C-permit from the department of traffic to carry passengers.

Without those two permits they cannot be involved in the public taxi business.

This is the battle that Malia and fellow taxi operators have been fighting for years.

They are bitter that while they spend lots of money to get government permits other operators simply put their unlicensed vehicles on the road and operate with impunity.

With police reluctant to take a strong stance against unlicensed vehicles, law-abiding taxi operators have taken it upon themselves to police the routes.

Many have paid dearly.

Malia nearly paid with his life last Wednesday.

Apparently the same driver who allegedly stabbed Malia is alleged to have beaten a minibus taxi driver two days earlier.

It is alleged that the fight started when the minibus driver confronted the taxi driver for skipping the queue to pick passengers at Qoaling bus stop.

So vicious was the alleged attack that the minibus driver had to seek medical treatment.

Sometimes rank marshals, the people hired by taxi operators themselves to maintain order at the taxi ranks, are also caught up in the crossfire.

This is what happened to a Qoaling bus stop rank marshal last Tuesday when he tried to stop a taxi driver from jumping the queue.

The taxi driver ran him over with his vehicle.

He too is lucky to be alive.

Passengers too have been at the receiving end of the fights.

They say they have been dragged out of taxis by operators.

Their lives have been put in danger because sometimes drivers drive beyond the speed limit as they battle for passengers.

A month ago a taxi owner was arrested for obstructing traffic flow by blocking the way for a cab in Qoaling.

The operator only identified as Motlalepula is alleged to have blocked a taxi that had picked up passengers on its way from Qoaling to town.

Motlalepula was travelling in his private car when he saw the cab pick passengers.

He gave a chase, it is alleged, and then he started blocking its way. 

A passenger who was in the taxi but refused to be named recalled how terrified they were when Motlalepula started chasing their taxi.

 “Our driver immediately accelerated,” she said.

“We begged him to stop and let us out because an accident could have happened but he refused.

We banged our heads as he crossed the speed humps in full speed. We banged our heads several times as we crossed all the humps,” she said.

“He made a U-turn and headed to Ha-Pita. We were horrified as the drama unfolded. He was driving at high speed by then. I was afraid we were going to die if an accident happened.” she said. 

Motlalepula was later arrested.

Many passengers have had similar experiences in the past.

Their problem is that they don’t know whether a taxi is licensed or not.

The MRTO spokesperson Makama Monese blamed the ongoing battle in Qoaling on traffic police officers who he said were “not doing enough to put the situation under control”.

 “Police know that there are 4+1 taxis that operate without licenses. We have reported such cars to them but they have done nothing about them.

“Unlicensed cars are disturbing peace at Qoaling. They are destroying our business. We will do whatever we can for the police to remove them,” Monese said.

He said in their battle to protect their business licensed taxi operators are also protecting the passengers from uninsured taxis.

 “When a passenger gets involved in an accident in an unlicensed taxi they do not get any compensation. It is just bad that they usually choose to travel in the cabs yet they have no knowledge of an unauthorised and an unlicensed taxi,” he said.

“Just yesterday (Monday) an unlicensed 4+1 taxi collided with another car along the Main North Road and young school children were injured. The driver did not report the accident to the police.”

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