Soweto - The Gauteng provincial government is sending hundreds of taxi operators back to school in a bid to help them manage their business better.
A partnership between the provincial Department of Roads and Transport will see the operators going through management development training in customer care and financial management.
Several taxi associations could not hide their excitement on Monday when they were told they were about to become "university students".
The plan is to train 2000 operators between September 2009 and May next year.
The initiative is one of many aimed at preparing the operators for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
It will be funded by the provincial government while the Centre for Small Business Development will provide management expertise.
The taxi industry accounts for more than 60 percent of South Africa's public transport system and it was for this reason, according to UJ Professor Gerrie Prinsloo, that the industry players needed to be equipped with the necessary skills to provide quality service.
Prinsloo, who will be managing the training, said following discussions with the taxi industry dating back to 2007, it was agreed that there was a need to provide a training model that would empower them to grow the industry.
"We identified three areas which are customer care, marketing and financial management," Prinsloo said.
He said under customer care, the students will be taught how to handle commuters better, dealing with competition, while there will also be subjects on managing emotions and avoiding road rage.
Taxi drivers are constantly at loggerheads with commuters over bad treatment and abuse, which has earned them a bad press over the years. Last year, a 24-year-old Johannesburg woman laid a charge with the police after taxi drivers allegedly stripped and sexually assaulted her, for wearing a mini-skirt,
Her story sparked anger nationwide and mass protests aimed at taxi drivers became the order of the day.
According to Prinsloo, the project had been piloted in several areas in Gauteng and associations have shown huge interest.
Prinsloo said by the end of the training, it was envisaged that those who participated would be able to provide a better service as well.
"The training is highly interactive and participants are encouraged to engage with the subjects being discussed," he said.
"It's no longer true that we have a captive market and that people are forced to use taxis. Many people can now afford to buy their own vehicles," he said.
South African Transport Solution Chief Executive Officer Nkululeko Buthelezi encouraged taxi owners to take part in the programme, saying the results would benefit the industry.
"Quality service is one of the central reasons for the programme because it's important that when people are running a business, they do so in a professional way," Buthelezi said.