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Bad blood among taxi kings

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A looming feud among taxi kings on Polokwane’s threshold, traffic cops accused of being in cahoots with unregistered taxi operators and alleged fraudulent issuing of operating licences add to a heady mix of telltale signs that cannot be ignored.
The taxi industry seems less of a lucrative business taking into account the challenges, the competition for passengers, the risks, the dangers and the feared assassinations. In an interview with Polokwane Observer, a local taxi owner shared details of an industry often bogged down by perceptions of raging rivalry and habitual dangerous driving. He hinted at a dangerous Catch 22 on Limpopo’s roads, given impetus by examples of illegal operators hell-bent on profit-making and seemingly willing to pay bribes to alleged corrupt traffic cops apparently believed to accumulate additional income by bribing law-breakers.

Initially he turned to Polokwane Observer with information about suspicious conduct attributed to traffic officials impounding his vehicle at a roadblock en route to Nobody last Thursday, despite his driver being in possession of a temporary permit or operating licence valid until 5 May 2015. It had cost him R5 000 to get his vehicle back and R1 500 in a fine imposed on his driver for failing to produce a valid operating licence, he emphasised. The source provided a copy of a temporary licence, seemingly issued by the Capricorn District Office of the Department of Transport in Lebowakgomo.

According to him he had initially bought an operating licence for R10 000 from someone in 2009, having to go to Lebowakgomo every three months to obtain a temporary permit or operating licence free of charge thereafther. All along he had been informed that only temporary operating licences and no permanent permits were being issued, he said. Despite possessing a temporary operating licence valid until 5 May 2015, his vehicle got impounded, he complained.
He was informed that his driver was supposed to have been in possession of a permanent operating licence, the source explained. It was learnt that he was indeed issued with a permanent document last week.
The taxi owner ascribed the conduct to rivals, within the regulating taxi association he belonged to, calling in favours from their friends in the Department of Transport to get the vehicles of their opponents off the road. He explained he was part of a team that drove out officials of their taxi association allegedly in cahoots with unregistered taxi operators with a campaign banning them from their area last year. Currently close to 500 registered taxis were operating on the line, whereas they managed to get rid of 70 unregistered vehicles on the road with the campaign. He expressed the belief that taxi operators on the team were mainly being targeted.

He continued sharing insight of what he called a bad industry, made worse by money-hungry “office workers” who could afford to own taxis but robbed operators who solely depended on it for a source of income. He described it as a very tough industry, conceding to the fact that taxi drivers have a foul reputation, providing the reason that they were competing for passengers. “It’s all about the money.” When their taxis are full they don’t drive as if the world is coming to an end, it was learnt.
He further confirmed what is generally perceived an open secret. “Traffic cops love taxi drivers, because they get their daily bread from them.” An ill-natured traffic official could easily pocket R1 000 a day from soliciting R100 bribes from taxi drivers, who paid to avoid a fine, according to the source.

Transport Department Spokesperson Kagiso Mootane commented by saying an internal investigation had been launched into allegations of licences being issued fraudulently at the departmental Capricorn District Office in Lebowakgomo after complaints received the past few weeks. After the allegations had been brought to the department’s attention, the decision was taken to issue permanent operating licences, she added.
Addressing the allegations around the impoundment of the taxi owner’s vehicle at the roadblock, she raised the opinion that if a vehicle had been impounded it was due to the driver operating with a fraudulent licence or on the wrong route.
She was of the opinion that taxi operators had to be briefed on changes in legislation by their respective associations. She agreed that it was expected that operators in the Mankweng area might not have been informed about the conversion in licences due to the ongoing battle within the association, as alleged by the source.

To the sweeping statement of alleged bribery by traffic cops, she said members of the public should report such offences to the toll-free hotline number 0800 00 66 94.