Operating hours for road-based public transport has been extended. Commuters will now be able to access bus and taxi services between 5am and 7pm. This is according to the amended regulations governing level four of the lockdown — and was announced by the Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, on Friday afternoon.

Social distancing difficult on trains

Commuter rail services will resume gradually based on plans submitted by the passenger rail operators, while assessing the risk of transmission of the coronavirus. While Gautrain will run a limited service, Metrorail will not run during level 4 of the lockdown

“There will be no immediate resumption of Metrorail commuter services until we have satisfied ourselves that the risk of transmission is manageable on a corridor-by-corridor basis,” Mbalula said.

According to Metrorail, at least two million South Africans use its services per day.

 “Prasa is the bigger challenge […] social distancing on trains is a challenge. We can’t go boom and open up Prasa. We have said they must use this time for testing to be ready for level three,” the minister said.

No masks, no travel

The minister warned commuters that wearing masks is now law.

“No person is allowed use of public transport who is not wearing a face mask. We call on the public to ensure strict adherence to this requirement by obtaining their own face masks.”

Mbalula said that the government will provide about four-million cloth face masks to commuters. He added that it is the responsibility of each person to ensure that they do not leave home without a mask. 

One-way trips home

Movement between provinces has been relaxed until May 7 to allow people to return to the areas where they work, or where their homes are. This is a once-off special dispensation for South Africans who found themselves stuck away from home or work, when the lockdown came into effect.

The transport department’s director general Alec Moemi stressed that this is a “once-off, one-way trip” so people can return to work.

To help people get home, long distance bus and taxi services will be allowed to operate during this window period. These services must also adhere to the rule of  70% passenger capacity and sanitisation of the vehicles at the end of each journey.

Scholar transport a ‘big, big challenge’

The minister said that the resumption and management of scholar transport is the next major hurdle facing the department when schools eventually do reopen. He said that they had presented a plan to the education department. 

“It will be a big, big challenge. We are working on it. We are aligned to say when the schools reopen, the trains must run.”

Mbalula also expressed unhappiness about the way scholar transport is run.

“The scholar transport is corrupt to the bone — people making money at the expense of our children,” he said.

Driving schools opened

Those hoping to get their driving licence will be relieved to hear that driving schools will be allowed to resume services — provided effective social distancing and sanitising measures are followed. Both the instructor and the learner must wear face masks at all times. Drivers’ Licence Testing Centres and Vehicle Testing Centres will gradually re-open for essential service workers to renew their drivers’ and vehicle licenses. 

The opening of the Driver’s Licence Testing Centres (DLTCs) will be staggered once inspection and verification of the state of readiness is done on all of them. The Metro-based DLTCs will be opened first from 1 June 2020.

The department will restrict the number of people that can be attended to, and will restrict bookings to online platforms.

The hard choices we have to make as a nation are premised on the centrality of the right to life and our singular commitment to uphold this right, above all else. Not everyone will be happy with these choices — some of which will be hard and will change our way of life.  However, we must never forget the reason we make these difficult choices in the first place — to preserve human life,” said Mbalula. — Health-e News