Last week, Werner Januarie, the head of the Namibia Transport and Taxi Union (NTTU) called for a 20 percent increase in fares for minibuses and regular taxis.
Given the vital role that taxis play in providing much needed ground transportation for the majority of Windhoek residents, such an increase is not an insignificant issue.
Voices against the demand for an increase have flooded the SMS pages, internet sites and casual conversations in recent days. Most of these comments are unfair, emotional and do not address the realities of running a taxi business. There does not seem to be much love for taxi drivers in Namibia.
In spite of the majority negative trend on this issue, we raise our voice in support of an appropriate increase, but reject Januarie’s weak justifications for the price hike request.
Januarie, during his press conference on the topic, said that the reasons for the proposed increase were the high fines drivers must pay for traffic offences, the lack of official taxi stops, and the slow issuance of taxi permits.
Those arguments miss the mark. The reason prices must go up is because the cost of running a taxi has increased and the price for the service, therefore, must increase accordingly. Whether the increase is 20 percent or 10 percent or another negotiated figure, is another story, but the fact is that the cost of fuel, insurance, car repair, spare parts and tyres have increased and therefore, the price paid for a taxi ride must increase as well.
The last fare increase approved by the Ministry of Works and Transport was in 2014, when rates jumped by N$2 to the current N$10. It is unreasonable to assume that the cost of operating a taxi has remained the same over nearly four years. Realistically speaking, an increase in the approved taxi fare is coming sooner or later.
As soon as a fuel price hike is announced, all who make their living using fuel to transact business (taxis, trucks, delivery companies, etc…) will immediately look to increase their charges for services rendered. The profit margin in the ground transportation industry is bare bones in any event as the market is flooded with service providers and the consumers have multiple options.
Most taxi drivers earn between N$3,600 and N$4,000 per month with their 30 percent commission on fares, depending on how long they work the streets each day and how many passengers they take on.
The competition for passengers is stiff and the urgency for drivers to get from one place to another and take on more is heightened. Many drivers justify their speeding and scary road acrobatics on this race for more riders. Some have argued that increasing the amount a taxi driver can earn each month, may contribute to better road habits by some taxis.
We are doubtful if a fare increase will make reckless taxi drivers slow down or stop their more dangerous driving tactics (running red and yellow lights, changing lanes at breakneck speeds, stopping in the middle of flowing traffic, blocking streets to take on passengers, physically grabbing people and forcing them into their vehicles, etc…), but we do feel that the business argument for increasing taxi fares is relevant.
Januarie must explain his point of view from this stronger position.
Drivers who get tickets must pay them, whether these are taxi drivers or ordinary citizens. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. We do, however, support that different methods of payments should be accommodated as the amounts on some of the tickets can range into thousands of dollars.
The NTTU has made this request also as the pressure for immediate payment of larger fines is prohibitive for most drivers. Using fines to remove someone’s livelihood as a taxi operator is overkill and some fair negotiation should be considered.
We recognize and agree with the demand for increased taxi infrastructure. But, we also want better policing to ensure that the current taxi stands and loading areas are being used.
Taxis cannot unilaterally increase their fares. It must be submitted to the Ministry of Works and Transport as a proposal. The ministry must then weigh the arguments and pronounce itself on the matter in due course.
In these recessionary times with many people losing their jobs or having hours cut, there is no guarantee that the taxi driver’s request will be allowed (at this time). Still, we believe that NTTU is correct in making the request.
Those taking taxis and receiving Cost of Living Allowance increases or inflation rate increases on their jobs must not be so selfish as to deny such increases for others. The drivers cannot be paid more, unless they earn more per fare.
In their anger at the poor driving habits of many taxi drivers, the public easily forget that they also must buy food, pay rent and school fees, raise their families and live in the high priced urban economy. Whether we like them or not, they are also human beings and fellow citizens worthy of the same consideration as any other.