Taxi War Brewing in Rehoboth

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK A legally registered “eagle owner” of Rehoboth is threatening to take the Namibia Bus and Taxi Association (NABTA) to court because of an alleged raw deal and unfair treatment. Mara Beukes, co-owner of a family transport company, Beukes Express, is contemplating legal action because she claims her business has been unduly disadvantaged by NABTA’s unacceptable rules and regulations. “We see this as flagrant bullying tactics aimed at further marginalizing transport operators. The whole issue started when the Rehoboth Bus and Taxi Association (REBTA), a branch of NABTA secured a piece of land from the Rehoboth Council to set up a formal taxi rank at the town. A meeting of members was held at which different views were expressed. Some taxi-owners were not happy with the rules under which the rank was operated, though most of us cooperated for at least five months,” said Beukes. She claimed that taxi owners suffered great financial losses as they tried to adhere to the “unworkable” laid down rank rules at the town. “Due to these rules, our vehicles were forced to stand idle at the Rehoboth rank and the one in Windhoek for long periods of time. We have realised that Rehoboth as a small town can do without a rank, but pick-up points which the present rank can form part of. It is a small town in which people want to be transported quickly for emergencies to Windhoek instead of having to wait for taxis to be regulated for hours in a queue,” Beukes said. On February 2 this year, her bus-taxi was issued a writ by the REBTA/NABTA branch for not respecting the rules and regulations applicable to loading zones. “You are informed that you will comply with all rules as set out for loading zones on the Rehoboth-Windhoek route. This action cannot be tolerated and we wish to inform you that you are suspended from loading passengers at the loading zones with immediate effect,” the chairman of REBTA, Nathan Africa informed Beukes formally in writing. In response, Beukes inter alia informed the organization that the present rank system at Rehoboth unfairly only benefits owners of multiple buses, suffocating one-person transport operators. She further claimed that she does business in a free market system; the rank system limits the scope to explore other growth strategies within the transport sector; clients lose valuable time waiting for a bus to fill up; the rank system creates a market for unauthorized transport mediums to capitalize on and it discriminates against the lower income groups within the Rehoboth society; the rank system promotes unethical social behaviour among unproductive employees waiting for hours on a loading turn; taxi owners are losing up to 50 percent in income and REBTA/NABTA rules and regulations contravene the fundamental rights of taxi owners, she asserted. “We have been operational in the transport market for many years and never have we experienced such physical fighting and swearing among transport operators. Our vision is to create a smooth system in order to cater for our customers, including the lower income groups in our society as well as keep our employees productive,” Beukes said. According to Beukes, a disciplinary hearing was held with NABTA at which she explained her position. “We have adhered to the rules for more than five months, but due to the financial losses suffered and the fact that the public suffer by coming late at work in Windhoek, we decided not to adhere to the rules no more. We have been threatened with the removal of our official transport disc as well as that our road transport permit would be terminated by NABTA. In my opinion they didn’t resolve the problem amicably,” she said. Beukes further charged that private pick up owners also illegally take away business from legal transport owners on the same route. “Presently this form of pirate taxi is a thriving illegal business on its own. We as legal transporters suffer tremendously. Private bakkie owners daily transport fellow workers and others to and from Windhoek under the guise of ‘non-payment’ for such transport as regular customers. Neither REBTA nor NABTA has done anything about this at all, seemingly considered to be a very sensitive issue,” Beukes claimed. The vice chairperson of REBTA, Agah Shahbaz yesterday dismissed Beukes’s claim of unfair treatment as “double standards”. “These transport operators point-blankly and deliberately refuse to obey the rules of our organization, aimed at bringing order, discipline and justification in the transport route between Rehoboth and Windhoek. These rules were set up by NABTA and we are only there to see to it that the rules are followed. “The single biggest problem with most Rehoboth transport operators is the fact that they don’t want to queue at the demarcated ranks,” Shahbaz said.