Pirate taxis cause consternation

The increase in illegal taxis is a cause for concern for the Windhoek City Police: Apart from illegal taxis, authorities are particularly worried about these vehicles being used in crimes.

03 March 2019 | Crime

Windhoek • Clemens von Alten

It is not uncommon for illegal taxis to be pulled out of traffic at check points in the capital. “Particularly striking is an increase in so-called pirate taxis that often serve as a getaway cars during robberies,” said the Windhoek City Police’s press secretary, constable Fabian Amukwelele. “They create fake numbers on the side doors and the rear window of the vehicle, and then use it to commit crimes,” he said.

Sometimes, Amukwelele said, they find that genuine taxis are used for criminal activities without the owner’s knowledge. “Taxi owners are often guilty of not vetting their drivers before employing them,” he said.

To curb the use of taxis in robberies, the City Police uses different approaches to tackle the issue, one of which is an appeal to members of the public to report suspicious vehicles. “Information-based policing can be used to capture repeat offenders, burglars and felons,” he said. “Of course we also use video surveillance when it comes to identifying the culprits.”

Another issue is that there are many pirate taxis whose drivers ask lower fares. “As a result, passengers are eager to use them,” Amukwelele said. However, this also carries a major risk: “Especially students are often robbed.

He said he sometimes feels abandoned by the Namibian justice system which often doesn’t bring perpetrators to book. “Although we often have strong evidence and can expose defendants as repeat offenders, they are given bail and they just go on,” a somewhat discouraged Amukwelele said.

Another problem is that taxis are often registered to a particular person, but are being driven by someone else. “But with more than 11 000 taxis in Windhoek, this is not easy to control,” he said.

Rules and regulations

Anyone wanting to work as a taxi driver may not have a criminal record and must have a valid public transport driver’s license which must be renewed every year. The respective vehicle must be registered for public transport by the Roads Authority and must also be renewed annually.

In Windhoek, taxis must register with the City Police, who test the roadworthiness of the vehicle, after which the driver is issued a six-month operating permit.

“Any public transport vehicle that is not roadworthy is deemed unfit to operate and is on the road illegally until such time the owner brings it up to standard. It is for this reason that when our officers come across a registered public transport vehicle that has defects, the driver is issued with a fine and asked not drive the taxi any further until those issues are dealt with,” he said.

Double digits

Taxi owners and drivers are urged to report the matter should they see two public transport vehicles that display the same number, since one taxi is definitely pirated. “Every registered taxi in Windhoek is assigned an individual number which must be affixed to the doors and the rear window of the car – a letter followed by a number. For combinations starting with ‘A’, the numbers range from 1 to 605. For letters B through Z, the number is between 1 and 600,” Amukwelele says. “So, for example, if a member of the public comes across B601 and up, it is a fake taxi. Z700 will be fake as well.”

However, according to Amukwelele, the City Police have yet to set up a database to record the number of illegal taxis that have been detected and dealt with by their officers.

As a matter of interest, Amukwelele says that public transport vehicles are not allowed to have tinted windows.

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