Rainbow Nation in reverse: ANC wants to ban different coloured taxi paints

JOHANNESBURG — Just when you thought the ANC’s often nonsensical regulation couldn’t get worse, it does. The country’s transport department wants to enforce an almost North Korean style of conformity on the taxi industry by forcing all new minibuses to only be adorned in white paint colours. Anybody familiar with South African taxis will tell you that this is the last industry to submit itself to any kind of conformity. The annoying aspect of this nonconformity lies in how the industry, day after day, manages to creatively break the rules of the road. But there’s a more pleasant side of this nonconformity as well where minibus taxis decorate their vehicles to stand out of the crowd. One has to wonder then whether placing a lid on this industry will even work at all. And by trying to force taxis to all look the same, lawmakers risk taking South Africa one step closer to turning it into a nasty, communist dictatorship. – Gareth van Zyl

By Gary Moore*

In August, the transport minister gazetted regulations which claim to be about “colour coding and branding” for minibus taxis.

Yet these regulations prohibit colour coding and branding.

They prohibit any colour-coding that could inform commuters about taxi routes.

They ban different-coloured route stickers like those designed by transport-expert Sias Oosthuizen to help Pretoria commuters identify taxis by their routes (travelling between Mamelodi and Wonderboom, or on a Menlyn-area route, or a specific route between Mamelodi and the CBD, or interregionally between Marabastad and Pietersburg).  

Also banned are different-coloured vehicle paints that might help to identify which taxis drive which routes.

The new regulations require, from February onwards, all new minibus taxis to be white in colour. That is not colour-coding.

Colour coding means using a system of different colours to display information.

Requiring a minibus taxi to be white displays no information about it. It does not even distinguish a minibus taxi from a non-taxi minibus, also likely to be white since the most common colour for vehicles is white.

Because these regulations outlining colour coding requirements for minibus taxis disallow colour coding, they are probably invalid.

The regulations were made under the National Land Transport Act. The Act authorises the minister to make regulations relating to colour coding of vehicles used for public transport.

Giving the minister power to make regulations about colour coding does not authorise him to sweep it away entirely. To regulate is not to prohibit, say the courts, and assumes the thing to be regulated will be conserved.

The new regulations allow only the display of one small sticker, not larger than 225 sq cm (or 15 cm a side, the size of a folded paper serviette) showing the name and logo of the operator’s taxi association, which “may include” the route number or description and “may be displayed anywhere” on the vehicle. The sticker is not compulsory.

Draft regulations published in 2014 had envisaged that the route number should appear on the front of the vehicle, but this has not been implemented.

Also allowed is another (similarly pocket-handkerchief-sized) sticker, showing the name and arms of the municipality or province “in which the operations take place” (ignoring inter-city and inter-provincial operations).  

Oddly, the regulations say that from February new minibus taxis must, on both front doors display stickers “no larger than” 300 mm by 300 mm depicting the South African flag.

The requirement that the sticker must be “no larger than” 300 mm by 300 mm means that the sticker can be smaller than that. Perhaps a lot smaller. The minister possibly did not think of that.

While the sticker must be no larger than 300 mm a side, the regulations do not say how large the flag on the sticker must be.

The regulations say the sticker must depict the flag correctly as prescribed in the Constitution. The Constitution stipulates that the flag is a rectangle that is one-and-a-half times longer than it is wide.

This means that the only way the sticker can comply is by depicting a flag that is no larger than 300 mm by 200 mm (or a flag that is smaller than that, provided it keeps the same ratio of its length being one-and-a-half times its width).

No other distinguishing marks, identifications or livery may be painted on the vehicle. (This means that even the wavy flag streamers and yellow strips on the sides and rear of the current 15-seater taxis will be disallowed.)

The new regulations serve no clear purpose, and are probably invalid on that ground. Laws must have a legitimate purpose and a rational relationship to it.

Having said all this, the new regulations are not too onerous and can be easily complied with, by licensed operators and pirates alike.

However, to any official so inclined, the new regulations offer some scope for creative interpretation and lucrative enforcement or lack of enforcement.

Perhaps the new regulations will be as effective as the 2009 general regulations under the Act which require an operator to affix, to the lower inside left-hand corner of the windscreen of the vehicle, a decal showing particulars of his operating licence. This obligation to display a decal showing licence particulars has not prevented unlicensed operators from carrying on business.

  • Gary Moore is a South African lawyer and senior Free Market Foundation researcher.
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