Bloemfontein public transport in a crisis

Commuter Dimakatso Mokholwa struggles to catch her morning taxi during a tense strike by local taxi operators who barred Interstate buses from picking up passengers. PHOTO: PIERCE VAN HEERDEN

Public transportation all over Bloemfontein has been put to a stop after taxi drivers have barred Interstate Bus Lines (IBL) from picking up passengers. The abrupt ban on commutes has hit the city hard as residents who rely on public transportation have been forced to walk across Mangaung to go to work while others have no choice but to stay at home altogether.

Dimakatso Mokholwa, who lives in Freedom Square, about 16 km away from her workplace at a major mall, expressed that the strike has compromised her employment as she works in shifts. “I only found out about the strike after work yesterday when there were no taxis. I had to walk all the way home at night. I have been badly affected and the worst part is that we do not know when the ban will end. I am really worried about my job,” she said while standing near a taxi stop late in the morning.
Police vehicles were present in the buzzing Dr Belcher and Dewetsdorp Roads but no buses were on their usual routes. Taxis that did pass were empty, ignoring rows of commuters seen walking up and down the pavement with bags, sacks and luggage. According to a taxi driver who does not want to be named the strike is set to continue until IBL cooperates with them.

Police struggle to load a group of suspected taxi drivers into a van in Dr Belcher Road after a violent crowd hurled rocks at an Interstate bus on Tuesday. PHOTO: PIERCE VAN HEERDEN

“We are not happy with the way that the buses operate. There are approximately four buses every hour and they get subsidised by the state. We have to pay for everything ourselves. We want them to at least operate until 17:30 but they do not cooperate. All they do is keep adding more and more buses to routes. We have to cooperate with one another because this business is not just theirs but for both taxis and buses,” said the disgruntled driver.

A video was shared on social media on Tuesday taken at the Central Business District where buses with passengers were hurled with rocks while police officials broke up aggressive crowds with firearms. According to IBL CEO, George Mokgothu, allegations of illegal operations are untrue. “At the moment we can confirm that a meeting with the Free State Department of Police, Roads and Transport and Greater Bloemfontein Taxi Association has been scheduled for 12:00 today and we will issue a media release after the meeting,” he said on Wednesday.

There are also claims that buses are not subjected to the same traffic and safety regulations as taxis. Spokesperson for the Department of Police, Roads and Transport, Hillary Mophethe, denied the allegations. “Drivers allege that the department is not doing regular roadworthy checks with buses as often as it does with taxis, which is not correct,” she said.

“It is important to also note that IBL is carrying out a government contract with very strict conditions and if they were to use vehicles without permits they will be penalized and such vehicles will not be paid therefore it will not be in their best interest to use such vehicles,” explained Mophethe.

Premier’s Office spokesperson, Tiisetso Makhele, also confirmed that a meeting would be taking place. “The Free State Premier, Hon. Sefora Ntombela is concerned about the ongoing challenges facing the public transportation sector, especially the strike in Mangaung. She has delegated MEC Sam Mashinini to engage with all relevant parties to ensure that this matter is brought to its conclusion,” he explained.

Nomaqhawe Mtebele