The government wants to regulate taxi fares and take over the licensing of taxi operators.

But the taxi industry has adopted a wait-and-see approach towards the proposed regulations.

Transport Director-General Mpumi Mpofu said a national public transport regulator, which is catered for in the National Land Transport Act, would give the government the power to determine taxi fares in the same way that an energy regulator determined electricity tariffs.

Mpofu said the move towards regulating taxi fares was in line with the government’s plans to introduce a partial subsidy for taxis this year before phasing in a full subsidy as part of an overhaul of the industry.

“The government wants to later be able to determine fares. The national public transport regulator will set taxi and bus fares,” she said.

Besides overseeing fares charged by buses and taxis, the regulator will also decide on applications for operating licences.

The taxi industry is run by a cartel of powerful taxi owners who belong to taxi bodies that strictly control entry into the industry by new players and set fares across the board.

New entrants have to pay thousands of rands in “joining fees” and “protection fees”.

They are bound by the rules and are limited to routes determined by taxi associations.

The industry has been plagued by incidents of violence as rival taxi organisations vie for the most profitable routes.

South African National Taxi Council secretary-general, Philip Taaibosch, said the taxi industry would have to be consulted first about how such a regulator would work and how it would affect the industry.

“We will have to be taken on board and engage with the government to understand what the regulator is all about,” he said.

Sicelo Mabaso of Top Six Taxi Management said Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele had promised in his budget speech to convene a taxi indaba where all issues, including the proposed regulator, will be discussed with representatives of the industry.

“It would be premature to comment on it now,” he said.

Mpofu said that this year the department would start offering subsidies to taxis that operated on routes that formed part of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in the major cities.

“We have developed a road-based public transport subsidy. No matter what you are driving – a bus or a taxi – it is the route that is subsidised,” she said.

Taxi bosses are opposed to the BRT system, which they fear will affect their profitability.

The department is in talks with the National Treasury to extend the subsidies to taxis that operate outside bus routes. If successful, the subsidies will come into effect in April.

Meanwhile, 30 000 taxis around the country have been scrapped as part of the taxi recapitalisation process.

With inflation, the scrapping compensation has been increased to R55 000, and 120 000 taxis still have to be scrapped.

Mpofu said the recapitalisation programme had been expanded to include about 50 000 operators who were operating illegally, but could produce proof that they had tried to legalise their operations.

She said taxis that did not meet the recapitalisation specifics, such as passenger seat belts and roll-over bars, but were still in a good condition, would not be scrapped now.

“The programme is designed to get rid of unroadworthy vehicles; it doesn’t mean that because it’s a Siyaya (old-style minibus taxi), it has to be scrapped.

“We won’t scrap vehicles that are useful.

“As vehicles become old, they go,” she said.