Transport for stranded workers

Transport and Public Works MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela addresses the media after visiting the Cape Town Bus Terminus and to assess the state of public transport readiness in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA )

Since the Covid-19 lockdown commenced last week, the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works received numerous reports of essential services workers, including healthcare and retail staff, being stranded and unable to get to work.

For this reason, the department is assessing ongoing transport challenges experienced by essential service workers, government employees and employers during the lockdown.

To this end, the department urge all essential service employers who are experiencing problems to contact the department by email at HOD.TransportPublicWorks@westerncape.gov.za stating the nature of their transport challenge.

Specific details need to be provided, including the number of people that need to be transported, from where, to where, at what time. The department will then finalise comprehensive solutions and recommendations to deal with these challenges.

In a statement issued by the department, it said transport needs are dynamic, and they remain committed to meeting changing transport needs as they arise.

The department said it also received reports of minibus taxi operators refusing to allow their usual passengers to use alternative transport and, in some cases, violently attacking alternative means of transport for essential services workers.

“This is unacceptable and is happening despite our commitment to work together to address the challenges of the lockdown. Many of the essential services workers who have been left stranded would ordinarily have used minibus taxis. Fewer minibus taxis are operating than normal, with some operators being unwilling to do so due to the new restrictions placed on their operating capacity by the public transport lockdown regulations,” the statement reads.

Minibus taxis are now only permitted to carry eight people, rather than the usual 16. During the lockdown, all public transport operators are restricted to two daily operating slots – from 5am to 9 am, and from 4pm to 8pm. These restrictions have been relaxed for this week (Monday March 30 to Friday April 3), as announced by the Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula.

This is to ensure that social grant recipients can access their grants and pensions.

Marion de Vries, assistant director for communications at the Department of Transport and Public Works, said: “It goes without saying that it is critically important for essential services workers to be able to get to work at the time they are needed. This is especially important in the healthcare sector, who are at the frontlines of the fight against Covid-19.

“At this difficult time, we implore the minibus taxi industry to continue transporting essential workers, where possible, and to stop intimidating other transport providers or passengers looking for alternative means of getting to work. We understand and are sympathetic to the challenges that the capacity restrictions impose on the industry, and would welcome immediate dialogue to develop a way forward.”