Exploring the minibus taxi as a means to improving public transportation in SA
Recent national studies have found that around 30% of South African households own a car, with vehicle ownership higher in metropolitan and inner city areas. This means that 70% of the population make use of public transport to commute for their day to day needs.
In South Africa, the public transport system is made up of three modes: train (traditional commuter rail system, and the high speed Gautrain), bus (subsidised and unsubsidised), and the growing minibus taxi with 16 and 24 seater options.
The train and bus systems service about 30% of South Africa’s commuters, who benefit from the subsidies provided by the government. The rail network has a limited reach within many provinces and of recent has expereinced a lack in structure and security. The bus service has limited routes within metropolitan areas and experiences frequent delays while offering a limited after-hours service. Many of the trains and buses in South Africa are ill-maintained and old, with slow speeds and long travel times.
The remaining two-thirds of the commuter population make use of minibus taxis, which recieve a miniscule benefit of the funding the government allocates to the public transport sector. The industry employs thousands of drivers, taxi marshals and car washers, as well as form the base of an ecosystem which supports vendors (or informal traders).
With the limitations that trains and buses present, minibus taxis are for many commmuters the only option for their commuting needs. The industry is driven by supply and demand, and is able to pivot to commuter needs at a rapid pace, thanks to its use of existing national road networks accessibility of minibus taxi vehicles.
There have been calls to formalise and regulate the minibus taxi industry similar to the railway and buses, however these developments have yet to fully evolve. Formalisation will pave the way for minubus taxi commuters to enjoy the benefits of government subsidies, which will result in cheaper fares; and for industry employees to gain access to benefits that are available in the formal sector.
Transport is essential for South Africa’s economic growth and social development – and the minibus taxi industry is the core of South Africa’s public transport system.