JOHANNESBURG, June 30 (Reuters Life!) - South Africa's national taxi service, often derided for its reckless drivers, shoddy vehicles and cramped interiors, aims to launch a budget airline in September, one of its officials said on Thursday.
The planned service in an already crowded field of discount carriers may face a rough ride from consumers who hold the taxi service in low esteem, with the announcement sparking a slew of critical comments on social media.
"We are fully aware of those negative connections, which is an advantage because we know where to improve. We want to break from the past by introducing a new service," said Nkhululeko Buthelezi, business development manager of the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco).
The taxi group has defied critics for years by expanding its business despite complaints about what critics say is a dicey and dangerous service.
The council plans to list its airline on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, he said.
"We will be launching the airline on September 16," he said.
The first flights are expected in November from Pretoria to the Eastern Cape as well as to Cape Town, Fares will be about 600 rand ($88.78) one-way.
Other discount air carriers charge about the same fare.
The typical "taxi" in South Africa is a van stuffed with people that weaves through roads, often without regard to traffic law, picking up passengers who flash hand signals for their destinations.
Messages on Twitter about the proposed airline include: "You will have to stand on the runway with your finger in the air," "Well at least you'll be closer to heaven in the event of a crash," and "Two passengers on one seat."
The planned service would be operated by Air Aquarius, which will supply a 100-seat aircraft and crew.
Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Paul Casciato