By Petronella Sibeene
Commuters could have a rude awakening soon as public transport operators plan to stage a nationwide strike alleging that the Government has failed to address the sector’s concerns.
Operators feel that the Government has failed to create a platform where the industry and other stakeholders could come together and iron out issues that plague the industry.
The planned strike whose date the Namibia Bus and Taxi Association (Nabta) president, Magnus Nangombe, could not reveal to New Era would, once started, continue until government bows to the operators’ demands.
The strike is likely to affect close to 70 percent of the country’s population that depends heavily on public transport.
Issues the industry says need urgent solutions include identity for public transport operators in order to get rid of pirates, building of loading terminals and the issue of seat spacing in minibuses.
In an interview with New Era, Nangombe said since 2005, the association has submitted numerous letters and held countless meetings with officials in the Ministry of Works and Transport proposing that the Government comes up with a sound policy or Act to govern the industry.
Despite all these efforts, nothing has been done to date, he said.
“Nabta is disappointed with the Government because to date, it has failed to come up with an Act or clear policy that would govern the public transport sector in Namibia. Not a single item on the list (submitted in May 2005 to the ministry) has been taken up,” Nangombe said.
Julias Ngweda, Ministry of Works and Transport spokesperson, said the ministry was aware of the industry’s concerns and was addressing them.
Ngweda said the ministry was working on amendments to the Transport Act for it to suit the taxi operating system in Namibia.
“We have had several meetings with Nabta’s executive committee on a number of their concerns and we, as a ministry have agreed on how we have to move on some of the issues,” he said.
He said one of the issues the industry wants the ministry to address concerns loading zones. But due to the fact that this also concerns other stakeholders such as municipalities and the police, the issue has taken longer to address
“No, there is no solution yet but meetings are taking place,” he added.
The public transport system is governed by the Transport Act of 1977, which makes it illegal for public transport operators to operate between towns such as Windhoek and Rehoboth and Windhoek and Okahandja.
Another issue that needs clarity, according to Nangombe, is the Government’s stance on the number of seats a minibus should have.
Early this year, the Government announced that operators in the industry should adhere to the Road Traffic and Transportation Act of 2001 that specifies the number of seats a particular vehicle should have.
This provision stipulates that seating accommodation in buses transporting 16 and more passengers should be provided at a rate of 400 millimetres per person.
Minibuses with a carrying capacity of more than nine people should have 380 mm per person.
The announcement came after findings that some bus owners and dealers opted to instal smaller seats of 340 mm in their vehicles to allow space for additional seats that would provide a maximum payload in excess of 25 passengers.
This prompted the Government to urge such operators to re-convert their vehicle seats as specified by the law before the end of the year.
While Nabta members were not satisfied with the government’s idea, the association in February this year wrote a letter to the ministry requesting a meeting with senior officials to discuss the matter.
Nangombe says to date Nabta has not received any correspondence on the matter from the ministry.
“We will do it. We will strike and we will see no bus or taxi moving. And whoever will operate during that period, such a vehicle will be destroyed,” Nangombe said.
Status of Loading Terminals
Nangombe says town and village councils countrywide have failed to identify land that could be developed into modern taxi and bus loading terminals.
He singled out the town councils of Swakopmund, Rehoboth, Ondangwa, Katima Mulilo and Otjiwarongo as the only towns that have made efforts in setting up such facilities for public transport operators and commuters.
“These are the few councils that have been living up to their constitutional requirements. Every town or village council has an obligation to develop land into a taxi rank but few have done that,” Nangombe said.
Currently, “there is a mess in the industry, people are loaded like pigs and operators are doing this because they know councillors are gullible,” Nangombe said.
Nangombe added that at the last meeting held last November between Nabta, the former Minister of Works and Transport, Joel Kaapanda; the Governor of Oshana Region, Clemens Kashuupulwa, and others, Kaapanda said the ministry could assist councils in sourcing funds for putting up such facilities.
Once loading terminals are built, they could be managed jointly (Nabta and council) or town councils could rent them out to the association and return investments.
Putting up such infrastructure would also demand that town or village councils come up with by-laws that operators would abide by and order will be realised in the industry.
“Councillors who are unable to meet their obligations should not be re-elected,” Nangombe proposed.
Lack of Identity
Although it has become a practice in most African countries to paint all public transport vehicles with a certain colour for easy identification, Namibia still lags behind in that development.
Nabta feels once all vehicles operating in the public sector are “branded”, it will be easy to detect and control any irregularities the industry faces today.
“In 2005 we came up with colours (for public identity) and financial institutions were willing to fund the brand of colours but nothing has taken place,” the Nabta president bemoaned.
He added that the country claims to be exemplary in the SADC region but it is not doing what it is claiming.
Behaviour of Taxi Drivers
In as much as they offer a valuable service to many people in different regions, taxi drivers have been accused of committing different crimes.
Reports of passengers being assaulted and their personal valuables stolen in taxis have been heard.
Nangombe, however, feels all this is happening because of the lack of an Act and by-laws in different parts of the country that would dictate how taxi drivers should operate.
The industry is flooded with illegal operators and that has put tremendous pressure on legal operators, he says.
These unlicensed transporters operate outside the confines of the law and traffic regulations. They overload and traffic breaches are a common occurrence, revealed Max Hipandwa, spokesperson for the Windhoek City Police and Emergency Management Unit.
The operators charge anything between N$3.50 and N$5 per trip yet the legal fee is N$7. After midnight this fee doubles irrespective of the route.
Nangombe commended the reduction in accidents involving long-distance buses, which for many years were common.
“We are proud of long-distance buses because fatal accidents have reduced. We are 100 percent accident free even during long weekends and that means bus drivers are really listening to our advice,” said Nangombe.