It would be a mistake to underestimate the negative impacts of the current threat by the Namibia Transport and Taxi Union (NTTU) to unilaterally and illegally impose a 50 percent rate increase in Windhoek.
We believe the repercussions could lead to violence, intimidation of taxi clients, and unrest on varying levels.
With allowances for the fact that the Minister of Works and Transport, John Mutorwa, has been hospitalized and perhaps is not firmly in the leadership seat for swifter resolution of this crisis, this demand from the taxi union isn’t new. Their union leader, Werner Januarie, has been openly agitating and griping for a fare increase for a long time now.
Once again, we are alarmed at the level of detachment our government has from the everyday raw anger percolating amongst the man-in-the-street due to the economic crisis and its backlash at all levels.
This taxi fare crisis must be solved with immediate effect, lest the hordes that are hanging on to their inner frustrations, use this impending clash as a platform to release hostilities that would be better left leashed.
It is insufficient to tell the angry mob of taxi driving sharks who smell the blood of indecision in the water, that their request ‘has been submitted to the committee.’ That is a ‘put-off’ response that all of us recognize well. Leadership is needed on this point right now, not when some nebulous, faceless committee meets.
We are comfortable speculating that the gathering of this committee requires inter-ministerial coordination, designated officials to attend meetings and other variables that have not yet been organized. If things on this committee proceed the way many such organs usually do, they likely haven’t yet had a quorate meeting with a timeline for results.
Many of our civil servants, comfortable that their jobs are protected regardless of the economic downturn, are used to moving at a snail’s pace when the urgency of the situation at hand needs decisions made at cheetah speed.
This lackadaisical “we’ll get around to it” bureaucratic mentality could cause pain and suffering for taxi users across Windhoek who will likely be beaten and harassed by irate drivers extorting the illegally increased rates as NTTU threatens.
There will be taxi drivers who are not informed that their unilaterally imposed rate hike is illegal and will demand payment or threaten violence until they are paid.
There will be passengers who will believe the fare increase is a ‘done deal’ and will pay.
There will be those drivers who know the fare increase is illegal, but want to make a quick extra buck, even if it is for a day.
And there will be passengers who know the fee increase is not yet the law of the land, who will be literally beaten or terrorized by the undisciplined taxi drivers into paying or fighting.
Government must take the initiative and let the hot air out of this dangerous balloon quickly.
Why not hand out fliers at all taxi ranks refuting any rate hike not approved by the line ministry or use the different media houses and social media to put the message out that any unilateral taxi fare increase is illegal and people must not pay?
Use nbc radio in all languages and make announcements during all news broadcasts on television refuting any taxi rate increase.
Tell the people to report the taxi number of anyone over-charging.
Get every police officer on the streets and prepare them to put clamps on the cars of taxis who are over-charging illegally. Prepare to arrest and prosecute violent taxi drivers intimidating passengers.
In other words – government, WAKE-UP - and do prevention-of-damage outreach before the fact, rather than waiting until the crisis moment arrives.
While not all taxi drivers are criminals or assist criminals, threaten physical abuse and insult their passengers, drive against traffic laws and have no road etiquette, or overcharge passengers, enough of them do these things to leave the general public unsympathetic when assessing drivers’ concerns.
NTTU should do more than demand a rate increase, they should take definitive steps to clean-up their industry and police their own.
That said, there is a case to be made that taxi rates must go up to some degree. If costs for basic commodities, rent, fuel, tyres, car spare parts and other things increase, it lessens the profit earned by the taxi drivers.
Some people unreasonably believe that taxi drivers work due to nationalistic altruism in providing transportation for basic people. Not so, taxi drivers, just like anyone else, need to earn a living wage and improve their quality of life. Their kids need to go to school and eat too.
The ministry must therefore, consider what level of fare increase is feasible and must do so without further delay.
We caution the taxi drivers to be careful in taking this unilateral rate increase action. You may be cutting your nose off to spite your face.
Government is slow, but it will eventually learn from this situation and invest seriously and steadily in a mass transportation system for the larger cities and towns in Namibia.
Windhoek has a bus system still rooted in the pre-independence need to deliver black housekeepers from the suburbs to the rich white people’s homes in the city. They run only on workday mornings to get people to work and in the evenings when they knock off.
But, the city needs a system for 2018, not 1970. The municipal bus service must run 24/7/365, cover all sections of the city, make taxi stands double-up as bus stops to better serve the people.
Workers living in the same areas should collectively hire a professional taxi service at a monthly scheduled rate to get to work.
Municipal and national governments must begin developing a free school bus service immediately.
Minor increases to VAT or the fuel levy or an airport departure tax, can subsidize these costs.
This taxi rate increase action could, in the end, make most of the driver’s jobs redundant as they will have priced themselves out of the market with this threatened 50 percent escalation.
Government must be responsible and not stick its head into the sand and wish this impending clash away. We urge that our decision-makers move with urgency based on the real needs of the people. A taxi rebellion can spell chaos.