By Kotie Geldenhuys
They are all over our roads, they stop wherever they want to, ignore red traffic lights and are motorists’ worst nightmare. Drivers of minibus taxis are often described as being unlawful, aggressive and dangerous drivers. And yet, millions of South African commuters often have no choice but to put their lives in the hands of these taxi drivers each day.
For decades the minibus taxi industry, which is a multi-billion rand business, has been the preferred method of transportation for millions of South African commuters daily. Way back in 1999 it was stated that the taxi industry provides transportation for between five and ten million people every day and that it had a daily turnover of R15 million (Weekly Mail & Guardian, 1999). By 2020, the minibus taxi industry was responsible for 75% of all daily transport with approximately 15 million commuter trips daily to work, schools and universities, to access healthcare, shopping or for leisure. Exact figures are hard to pin down because the industry is unregulated and operates on a cash basis. It is estimated that the industry generates R90 billion in revenue annually (Fobosi, 2020).
Although using minibus taxis is more expensive than buses and trains, it is used by the majority of commuters, simply because they provide a more efficient service, especially over shorter routes. They are also more widely available, reaching places that the buses and trains do not. Simultaneously, it is also regarded as one of the most unsafe ways of transportation.
When the National Taxi Task Team, which was formed by Mr Mac Maharaj, the Minister of Transport at the time, published its findings in 1996, it noted a doubling of road crashes from 30 000 in 1984 to 60 000 in 1994. The rest of the findings are even more shocking with a tripling in fatalities in 1984 from 330 to 1000 in 1994 and a tripling of serious injuries from 2000 in 1984 to 6000 in 1994. Minor injuries also tripled, from 3500 in 1984 to 10 500 in 1994. A study on fatalities involving minibus taxis in comparison to other vehicles during 1992 to 1998, found that fatality rates for minibus taxi passengers were both higher and escalating, while fatality rates for other vehicles demonstrated a downward trend (Department of Transport, 2020a). In 1998 alone, taxis were involved in 70 000 crashes in which 900 passengers and 1385 drivers were killed (Weekly Mail & Guardian, 1999). In 2018, researchers from the North-West University published a study focusing on road fatalities in South Africa, using data from 2015. They found that minibus taxis contributed to approximately 9% of fatalities, with the researchers estimating that three of the 36 people killed every day on South African roads travel in minibus taxis (BusinessTech, 2018). In 2018, minibus taxis accounted for 19.2% of major crashes, even though they accounted for only 1.6% of the total number of vehicles on the road (Road Traffic Management Cooperation, 2019).
In 1996, the National Taxi Task Team (NTTT) report further that they found that minibus taxis involved in crashes were not compliant with traffic regulations, that these vehicles had significant defects and that there was a general lack of vehicle maintenance. In terms of driver behaviour, the report revealed that typical problems which were noted included speeding, observing limited to no following distances, performing dangerous overtaking not switching on headlights after sunset and lacking seatbelt usage.