Diary Pages: Transport in lockdown

With transport regulations easing under Level 4 of the Covid-19 lockdown, concerns have been raised over the safe regulation of mass transportation. We asked our participants: How has transport affected your experience of lockdown? Has the opening of public transport affected you? Here, we take a look at their responses.

NB: We have included combi taxis (mini-buses) as a form of public transport in this blog post, although technically they are a form private, mass transportation.

The privilege of private transport

Many participants said that the opening of public transportation would not affect their lives. They acknowledged that access to private vehicles; ride-hailing services like Uber, or indeed not needing to travel during the lockdown meant they would not need to face public transport safety issues.

“No, the opening of public transport has not affected me. I use a private vehicle”- Judy, Newlands

“I don’t usually make use of public transport to get around, so transport hasn’t really affected my experience of lockdown” – Nessie, Elsies River

This is not to say, however, that their transport has been unaffected by the lockdown. Judy, for example, is having problems with her car that she may not be able to fix until more non-essential businesses open under Level 3. “...Perhaps I will be hailing a taxi at some stage soon”, she writes. That said, the experience of those with access to private vehicles differs greatly from those who are reliant upon public transport.

‘Nobody in my household has a reason to leave our home’

Access to basic necessities within walking distance has also contributed to diarists not using public transportation. Riyaaz, from Primrose Park, explains that “This shift to level four hasn’t changed anything in my life or the lives of those around me. […] Since I don’t have to work during the lockdown and there is a market within walking distance of where I stay, I don’t have to use transport at all”. Close proximity to a store, mall or market provided many with a convenient way to access basic necessities. 

The cost of transport regulations for many households

Those who do rely on public transportation write about the hardships that restrictions had brought for them and their families.

“The transport are scarce so the challenge is about to buy groceries, the opening of public transport it play a vital role because we get the allowance of going and buy food”- Oscar, Shukushukuma

 “The opening it made things a little better with the fact that our families and friends don’t need to wait for hours now for a taxi to come they can travel between 05.and 19.00” Samkelo, Imizamo Yethu

“Last month I had to walk from the clinic to my house because there were no taxis and it was on a rainy day.  I had my baby on my back and I had to stand under a bus shelter for a while, that was a worst day ever.” – Nomaxabiso, Khayelitsha 

Fears and concerns over the safety of public transport

Those who were forced to rely upon public transport expressed fears over its safety. Bonga, from Khayelitsha, writes, “Public transport is worrying because in taxi’s social distancing is not observed. So, it affects me because it’s not safe our health is compromised.” Those who did have access to private transport echo these concerns.

“The opening of public transport meant that people can go anywhere anytime meaning that they can be more exposed to the virus or even spread it. It affects me so much as I know my family could be affected.”  – Thando, Khayelitsha 

The very social nature of mass transportation is seen as going against the preventative ideas of social distancing. Nessie explains that “even though I rarely use public transport I’ve been feeling more weary of it lately. Almost everything that they’ve told us to be cautious about (social distancing, keeping surfaces cleaned and sanitized, etc) public transport doesn’t really meet those standards”.

“To be honest, since our country has been in a national lockdown, I have been avoiding using public transport […] I’m still a bit sceptical to use public transport, so no the opening public transport does not affect me ‘cause I ain’t using it.” -Mysterious M, Gouda

But are these fears warranted when the South African government has put in place regulations to ensure the safety of its citizens? Evidence suggests that this is highly dependent on the drivers and those in taxis.

It’s not safe…

Many note the lack of preventative measures and adherence to safety regulations within public transport at present.

“The transport has affected me so much in terms of overload, now that they started ferrying people. Others don’t use sanitiser and [taxi operators do not] make sure [that] everyone in their taxi wear a mask and that passengers are not more than 10. I am so worried about our people…”- Zukiswa, Khayelitsha 

“Level 5 you could see it’s lockdown. Now some don’t sanitise clients hands they stopping unnecessary.  It freaks me out. I might have sanitizer in my bag but what about others”- Ameena, Woodstock

They are trying…

That said, some diarists note the commendable work conducted by taxi drivers in ensuring the safety of their clients…

“I would like to appreciate the taxi drivers who made their responsibility to make sure that people must wear their mask when they use these transports. Their good work does not go unnoticed.” – Papama, Khayelitsha 

“The public local transports are doing by all means by loading the small numbers and the drivers are strict to the passengers that each and every passenger must wear a mask and they buy the sanitizers to use in the taxi.”- Mavis, Block Six, Harry Gwala

Additionally, some drivers have been allocated days of operations to minimize the amount of taxis on the roads. Lwando, from Imizamo Yethu, notes that some taxis had been “split up into 2 groups A and B”, alternating between different days. However, this has meant lost money for the drivers.

“…when it was announced that public transport may only load 70% it became a problem. Cost from the taxi guys went up some are trying to make up for the 5 passenger lost”.  Samkelo, Imizamo Yethu

As a result of lockdown regulation on public transportation, some drivers are turning to overloaded vehicles or hiked fares to try and reduce their lost earnings.

Greater visibility of police and traffic officers needed

It seems that there is a challenge in regulating the ways in which people safely access public transportation during the lockdown. A recurring theme among our participants is concern with the lack of consistent efforts to police social distancing in their respective areas.  

“I think the police and traffic [officers] must be place more in our locations because of the number of the passengers because many are loading more than 10 passengers. […] People are doing as they please…” – Patsie, Khayelitsha 

“If I had the platform to talk to the minister of transport, Mbalula, I would have told him to stop allowing people to move up and down the country.”- Zukiswa, Khayelitsha 

While many of our participants making use of public transportation welcome the ease in regulations, expressed concerns around safety bring regulations and policing back into the conversation. Diarists highlight the lack of consistent traffic policing from one area to another; the general financial costs of regulations for drivers; and the (in)viability of social distancing and hand sanitising within mass transport. Here again, lockdown has placed the largest burdens upon those on Cape Town’s geographic and economic margins.

Questions raised:

Will attempts by the state to regulate the taxi industry reflect or change the power relationship between these two institutions?

How can the government help the transport industry to remain viable whilst remaining safe within the crisis?

Can this be an opportunity to develop more sustainable models for affordable, accessible, safely run transport services in Cape Town?


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