Taxi bosses threaten pull-out

Taxi bosses threaten pull-out

MASERU-TAXI operators in Maseru say they are now thinking of withdrawing their services after the government cut the business hours they are supposed to operate without consulting them.

The Maseru Region Taxi Operators (MRTO) chairman, Mokete Jonas, they are now thinking of returning the “free movement” permits to the government and park their vehicles at home.
The government issued the free movement permits to selected taxis when it imposed a 21-day lockdown last week to stop the spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the terms of the agreement, the taxis were to ferry passengers who are offering essential services to and from work during the lockdown between 6am and 10am and from 3pm to 6pm.

But in a stunning development, the government on Monday issued a gazette that will allow taxi operators to ferry passengers between 7am and 1pm.
The decision has infuriated taxi operators.

All supermarkets and chemists were also ordered to close at 11am.
“The government does not respect us,” Mokete said.
Jonas said the government did not communicate its decision to adjust the operating times.
“It confused us,” he said.

Jonas said the government was not aware that they were no longer making any profits during the lockdown but were just ferrying passengers “just to help Basotho”.

He said a 15-seater minibus was now supposed to carry only nine passengers including the driver with a sedan carrying just two passengers.
That requirement, Jonas said, meant their businesses were no longer profitable during the lockdown.

We are merely offering a service without making any profits, he said.
Jonas said the gazette was drafted and released at night and was swiftly implemented the next day without any consultation with taxi operators.
He appealed to the government to review the decision.

“If they do not (review the decision) we will return the permits back to them and park our taxis,” he said.
He also complained that many of their drivers were assaulted by soldiers on Monday after the gazette was issued adding that most of their drivers were not aware of the changes.

“There were many vehicles that were impounded yesterday (Monday).”
Jonas said they spent the whole of Monday negotiating with the police to release their vehicles.

He said the taxi operators felt insulted by the treatment they received from the government even though they were providing an essential service.
He added they were exposing themselves to infection by the Coronavirus while working yet the “government appeared ungrateful” indicating they did not care.

“I personally think it is a lie that Lesotho is a coronavirus-free country yet wholly surrounded by South Africa which has so many cases of the virus,” he said.
He said politicians should start showing some respect to the taxi industry adding when things go wrong in Lesotho, their industry also gets hurt.
Jonas said if the Ministry of Transport fails to assist them, they will down tools during the lockdown.

“We are not happy at all.”
Jonas said the government had misfired by coming up with the new gazette and harassing their drivers.
He said they did not know that they were not supposed to operate after lunch.

“We only saw it when drivers were being arrested.”
He said all they want is respect from the government.
“Those people at the (’Manthabiseng) Convention Centre (the official Covid-19 command centre) do not respect us,” he said.

“We tried calling them but to no avail, they do not respect us.”
Transport Principal Secretary Thabo Motoko told thepost that they were equally surprised by the issuing of the gazette by the government.
“It has kicked us hard,” he said.

Motoko said they will soon call a meeting with all relevant stakeholders to increase the number of taxis on the roads.
“We have allowed 45 taxis in Maseru and 20 in the districts. If we can increase the taxis by at least 10 more, we can be able to relieve them of their anxieties,” Motoko said.
“Parking their taxis at home will be a blow to us,” he said.

Nkheli Liphoto

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