Taxi leaders no-show scuppers transport talks

Taxi leaders no-show scuppers transport talks

Frustrated Port Alfred community members have called on the local taxi industry’s senior leadership to meet with them.

Community members rallied at Nomzamo Secondary School to meet with the taxi association to discuss their grievances on the ongoing dispute between the association and cab drivers. Picture: FAITH QINGA

This comes as they rejected the 1 March deadline set by Uncedo Taxi Association for independent transport operators to register with the Department of Transport, or quit.

A Valentine’s Day meeting of community members at a venue in eSleyini, Nemato, showed there was no love lost between them and a taxi industry they believe is being dictatorial. Uncedo Taxi Association’s Port Alfred management recently informed private vehicle owners that they had until the end of February to stop operating as cab drivers or staff transport businesses, or get off the road.

But community members rallied against the instruction. At the February 14 meeting, they said:

  • Private car owners are able to meet parents halfway with contract transport rates that are more affordable than the rates charged by taxi drivers. 
  • Private car owners treat their children with care as opposed to taxi drivers who do not have patience when transporting passengers. 

Most importantly, they said taxi owners did not have the right to dictate who transports them and they would not allow taxi drivers to intimidate their preferred contract transport operators.

Because of safety concerns, the meeting was adjourned and the Uncedo Taxi Association leadership was invited to address the community in the presence of the police and ward councillors.  The community meeting was scheduled for Thursday February 16 at 6pm at Nomzamo Secondary School. 

But instead of Uncedo’s Port Alfred executive, the association sent as their representatives two taxi drivers who introduced themselves by their first names only: Lindani and Malibongwe.

Lindani explained that they were from the association’s transport unit and that as such they had been mandated to deal with this matter and represent Uncedo in this meeting. They had been sent with a mandate to ask the community to elect six delegates who could put their grievances to the taxi association’s transport committee.

But the community members were having none of it: they sent the pair back with the instruction that it should be the executive committee itself that addressed them. They also said the 1 March deadline should be set aside  until Uncedo’s executive agreed to meet directly with the community. 

“We have a choice in deciding who transports our children,” exclaimed one community member.  

“Excuse the pun but Uncedo is not being helpful in this situation,” said another (‘Uncedo’ means to be helpful). “In fact, they have failed us… We want the full executive committee to address us, not taxi drivers.”  

Lindani denied that Uncedo had ever threatened to pull school and staff transport contract operators who were not Uncedo members off the road.

Although the police did not attend the February 16 meeting, Nemato’s South African Police Service members were patrolling the area. Of the invited councillors, only EFF councillor Xolisa Runeli attended the meeting. He red-flagged the matter as having the potential to spark conflict. He said all the relevant stakeholders needed to be involved in addressing the issue – not only community members and the taxi association.

Based on an interview with Uncedo Chairperson Mxolisi Kiti and Deputy Ayanda Zoli on Monday February 13, Talk of the Town was set to report on Uncedo’s demand that cab drivers and other independent operators register with them, or stay off the roads. 

However, within a short period (about two days), Uncedo’s leadership toned down their stance considerably, and said instead that they were prepared to sit down and talk with independent operators. (Talk of the Town, 16 February 2023, p3: ‘Port Alfred taxis, cabs in talks’.

In TOTT’s interview at Uncedo’s Port Alfred office last week, chairperson Mxolisi Kiti, said it was concerning that only one cab operator among the 20 operating in the area was registered with the province’s transport department. “We’ve done our research and only one vehicle is registered as a cab, while more than 20 vehicles are operating as cabs in town,” he said. 

Kiti said they had no problem with cab operators who were registered and were legitimately operating as cabs. “If they register with the department of transport and pay the licence then we have no problem with it.”

Uncedo believes it’s unfair that some cab drivers avoid the paperwork and the expense that goes with it. Adding insult to injury, they feel, is that some cab drivers are interfering with taxi operators’ livelihoods by picking up passengers on their routes.

Community members at the two public meetings expressed concern that if specific delegates were elected, this could see them targeted. For this reason, Talk of the Town has not identified individual speakers.

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