The minibus taxi industry in Mahikeng and Montshioa is under threat and last week they reacted to the growth in private operators transporting students without being recognised by the local taxi association. Most students travel to and from campus and their place of residence. The university population in Mahikeng is growing rapidly— this is in line with national trends. However, student housing on campus is not growing at the same rate. Within more and more students coming from outside of Mahikeng, rental housing and guest houses are being converted into student accommodation. Long-standing accommodation providers like Gatholo Flats have gone from single person per room to sharing rooms for students in the wake of this. Private housing providers seem to be providing transport services for students even if they are within 5km of the university— and this is problematic. Any operator providing a taxi or public transport service needs to be recognised by the Mmabatho Montshioa Taxi Association (MMTA), and also allocated a permit to operate from the Provincial Regulatory Entity.
Last year, minibus taxi operators aimed to protect their families by taking to the streets of Mmabatho against the bus that transports students from Gatholo to the University. These conflicts put a risk on both the residence and the transport providers in our town. It also tarnishes the university name. When we’ve been conducting research with the operators, they highlight that many of the drivers are feeling the pinch of loosing over 500 student trips per day due to the bus service. This year, with more student housing offering transport there is a risk that existing operators who are not part of the accommodation network may be exposed to even more risk— loosing more student trips. In other words, they may loose customers and take home less cash to the owner of the vehicle and themselves. In 2015, it was found that many taxi drivers in Mahikeng have between 4 and 8 dependents that the money they make from driving taxis clothe, feed and provide for. Without saying much, it will obviously aggravate operators if there is no intervention on the encroachment of private operators on local operator’s routes. Accommodation providers need to bear this in mind, because last week’s protest by taxi drivers may only get worse and threaten more than the transport services of university students.
There are many more accommodation providers popping up and it is important that they work through the local taxi association the Mmabatho Motshioa Tax Association (MMTA) in terms of arranging student transport in the local area; and in doing so only appointing local operators in order to contain possible conflict. The other issue is that student transport needs to be reasonable. It needs to serve students when existing public transport is unable to do so, for instance after 7 or 8 pm is a reasonable time for student transport from off-campus residences. Furthermore, student housing should encourage public transport use because where taxis operate more frequently, the roadways become much safer— although very (very) busy. Lastly, the lack of good infrastructure and shelters for the minibus taxi operators in Mahikeng and Mmabatho is a serious concern especially in Mega City, Mahikeng and the university area. These locations need urgent investment in public transport facilities that serve the minibus taxis, buses, bicycles, pedestrians and street retailers.