After ten weeks of staying at home to halt the spread of Covid-19, many Grade 7 and 12 learners will be relying on dedicated transport services for safe commute to and from school.
But with the staggered approach to reopening schools, how sustainable will business be for the local private taxi or 14-seater driver, who may be carrying just a fraction of their normal load?
If you’ve ever been on a South African taxi, you might be familiar with the expression ‘4-4, masihlalisane!’, or its companion, ‘Ha e tle ka di-seat!’ These are the taxi industry’s staples, and they translate to ‘4 per seat, let’s sit together’ and ‘(please combine the money and) send it seat by seat’ – which sums up why public transport works.
A single trip is more affordable for the commuter, and profitable for the service provider, if the costs are shared by several commuters at once. Across South Africa’s rural communities, townships and cities, many parents depend on transport service providers to ensure their children are taken to school and back safely.
School transport is usually a booming business, but the travel restrictions of lockdown have led to a serious loss of income for the transportation industry at large. This includes the men and women who make their living by collecting learners everyday nga ma Khumbi (14-seaters) or trusty old cars that are always on time.
These drivers depend on the money for petrol they receive to provide their service. While they’ll have been relieved to hear about schools reopening, will they still be able to operate if only some children in some areas will be needing them?
Is it going to be sustainable for them to get back on the road with possibly half or even a quarter of the passengers they usually carry? It might be challenging to get it right, but not impossible. Opportunities tend to come to those who are prepared to adapt with the times.
If you’re a school transport service provider
You might want to find ways to collaborate with other drivers in your neighbourhood. See if you can rearrange your passengers by proximity to each other, or by relative distances to school. This could help keep your routes profitable while maintaining affordable rates for parents and ensuring safety for learners. And those parents who can’t pay right now because of a loss of income on their side? What if you ‘got together’ with them and thought out of the box? Now is a time to share more than just money …
The old-fashioned bartering system might be a good idea. Try swopping a service for a service. Or a service for an essential product. Whether you own a mini-fleet of school buses in the city or drive iKhumbi ekasi, another silver lining could be the lower petrol prices we’re seeing.
If petrol costs you less, there should be little stopping you from filling up and getting back to business with some much-needed change in your pocket at the end of the day.