Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Cross border passenger operators feel let down by gov’t

Recently, South African Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula launched a 1.1 Billion Rand Covid Relief Fund for the country’s taxi industry which has been hit hard by the pandemic.

Meanwhile in Botswana, cross-border passenger operators feel forsaken by their government since to date there has been no mention by the relevant Ministry of any form of relief for cross-border operators to  mitigate the impact that Covid-19 has had on their business. With no sign of relief in sight, these operators are appealing to the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) to reduce the cost of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test which is a requirement when crossing the border to 200 Pula.

Speaking to this publication, a representative of the cross-border operators Private Lulwamani said the PCR test is too expensive for their customers who are predominantly small business owners who purchase goods in South Africa for resale in Botswana.  Lulwamani says since the inception of the PCR test, many of these small business owners have neglected the business of traveling to South Africa for purchasing of goods while others opt to commission the operators instead of going themselves since they cannot afford the PCR test. He said. “We are not the only ones suffering, so are these people who have been making a living through the importation of goods from neighboring countries. When you combine the PCR test cost and the transport fee, it is just too much for the people”

Lulwamani further stated that the effect of Covid-19 on cross-border operators has been extensively negative and significant and that reducing PCR test costs might be remedial in their recovery as an industry.

The public transport industry is one of the industries that were really hit hard by the pandemic as national lockdowns resulted in 100 percent revenue loss for public transport operators whose businesses came to a standstill.

When lockdowns were lifted, and hope was restored, this industry continued to suffer as passenger occupancy numbers reduced in compliance with social distancing rules. The introduction of these restrictions was a huge blow to the earnings of public transport operators who had hopes of making up for the losses incurred during the lockdowns. While these operators took to the path of recovery, international borders were still closed and cross-border operators continued in the struggle.

When the government made the decision to open borders it sparked hope for cross border operators whose income opportunities had been severely impacted.

However, Lulwamani said that light was dimmed at the revelation that all travelers needed a PCR test in order to cross the border.  He added that since the initiation of the PCR test requirement, passenger occupancy has been reduced significantly adding that since the borders were opened it is almost impossible to get customers at full capacity. According to him, the situation is so grave that routes such as Mahikeng and Zeerust have become non-operational due to the low numbers of passengers received. He says the cost of PCR tests has been a painful addition to some of their problems such as the increase in fuel prices and transport permits.

In South Africa the cost of PCR tests was reduced in December 2021 from 850 Rands to 500 Rands, a decision which the country’s Competition Commission believed to be a major victory for South Africans, particularly the most valuable groups. Lulwamani highlighted this fact and said they had hoped that Botswana would reciprocate. He said that this lack of action by our government demonstrates their lack of consideration for their people.

He also appealed to the media to actively take on their role as intermediary between the government and the people in order to amplify the concerns of the citizens and call the government to action.

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