MASERU – The taxi industry is planning an increase in taxi fares beginning September 1. Speaking to Public Eye, Lesotho Taxi Association Public Relations Officer, Lebohang Moea, said the decision was motivated by increased prices in the purchase of vehicles, motor parts, maintenance and other operational costs.
Moea noted that the industry has also been negatively affected by Covid-19 and continues to suffer due to escalating number of pirate taxis that the government fails to regulate. He said fares in the industry were last increased in the 2017/ 2018 financial year, adding that while their fares were stagnant, operational costs and minimum wages were increased between then and now.
Giving an example of the industries’ services that have increased since 2017/ 2018 financial year, Moea pointed out increased amounts taxi owners have to pay for vehicle fitness tests – from M90 to M350 while the price of new vehicle registration plates has risen from M60 to M400.
He said the emergence of Covid-19 in 2019 has also contributed to the financial challenges the industry is facing. During the first countrywide lockdown that was meant to curb the spread of the pandemic, the Public Health (Covid-19) Regulations of 2020 only allowed a 4+1 taxi to carry three passengers, a 15-seater taxi was allowed to carry nine passengers, while a 22-seater Sprinter was authorised to carry 13 passengers and a 65-seater bus to carry only 35 passengers.
This, Moea notes, has seen the industry losing approximately M360 per day, which translates to M10 800 per month for a single 15-seater taxi taking at least eight loads per day. He said a 4+1 taxi that takes at least 12 loads per day lost around M 96 per day or M2 880 a month during the lockdown.
“A Sprinter commuting between Maseru and Quthing lost M810 per day for a single load and M24 300 per month while a bus commuting between Maseru and Thaba-Tseka lost M3 300 per day for a single load and M99 000 per month,” Moea said.
He noted that having considered the above challenges, the industry found it relevant that taxi fares be increased from M8 to M18 for a 4+1 taxi, and from M7.50 to M17.50 for a taxi. He, however, noted that after negotiations with their passengers, which mostly are street vendors and factory workers, and considering the country’s economic state, they came to a compromise that at least local prices be M11 or 12 for a 4+1 and M10.50 or M11.50 for a taxi.
Moea further said that they have informed the Ministry of Transport about the matter two week ago, and are still waiting for a response. He said during the last board meeting that the industry had with the ministry, it was suggested that prices be hiked by M1 for both 4+1 and the taxis but taxi operators rejected the offer.
“We understand that people are financially struggling due to Covid-19 and the declining country’s economy. As a result, we have agreed that we will take whatever prices the ministry will suggest but the fares should be along our proposed fares.
“The fares should be reasonable and be able to cushion the industry from its financial struggle. We can only compromise that far. We do not want the 10 percent increment that the board previously recommended. It is too low and will not address the challenges the industry is facing,” Moea said.
Minister of Transport, Tšoeu Mokeretla, has confirmed that he has received a request for fare increments from the taxi industry. He, however, refused to be drawn into discussing the matter, noting that the transport board is currently working on the matter and will later pronounce itself. Speaking on pirate taxis, the Traffic and Transport Commissioner ’Mathabo Tšosane, in a previous interview with this paper said that the transport ministry, together with Maseru City Council, taxi owners and drivers will work together to ensure that only documented cars carry passengers.
She said that the operation that will be taken all around the country will start in Maseru on a date they could not then reveal. Tšosane said together they will help identify cars that are not legally registered to take passengers. “The operation will be a long term one that will be used continuously to ensure that pirating cars are removed from roads,” she added.
She further stressed that people should also beware of cars that are operating illegally as they are not only unsafe but are also a threat to the taxi industry business. She said: “Since it has become hard for passengers to identify legally permitted taxis, they should pay attention to details and ensure that a 4+1taxi has a yellow belt, a D permit or C permit for mini bus taxis with a triangular disc that is normally placed on the taxi’s screen and a route board for mini taxis”.