From reckless drivers to poor road conditions — South Africa’s road users are not safe and it would seem as though the Department of Transport is doing very little to address road safety. This is particularly evident in the panel vans that are unlawfully converted into taxis to operate on the country’s roads. Just this week it emerged that that 70 new Ford Ranger vehicles had been blocked by a roadworthy test station in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, allegedly converted into passenger-carrying trucks.
The Department of Transport (DoT) has been aware of this practice and the existence of illegally converted vehicles since 2005, but has continuously failed to act decisively in impounding these vehicles, in accordance with the National Land Transport Act. It has also recently emerged that panel vans are also now illegally being converted into ambulances.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) has written to Minister Fikile Mbalula to act immediately as it compromises road safety every day and places millions of road users in unimaginable life-threatening situations. The Public Protector (PP) released a report in March 2019, “Report on a Systemic Investigation into the Illegal Conversion of Goods Carrying Toyota Quantum Panel Vans into Passenger Carrying Mini-Bus Taxis to transport members of the Public”.
The report relates to a complaint dating back to 2012. The remedial action can best be described as diluted and needs to be expanded substantially as it does not consider illegal ambulance conversions.
Instead of providing direction in order to fix this challenge in transport, it seems that the route of least resistance was chosen. Opting to negotiate for a solution among those that should be held accountable to a reluctant government while completing the report at a pace of 1.6 pages a month spanning seven years has sadly compounded the spectrum of damage.
The best interests of commuters and road users have not been served — least of all with this report. Many longstanding taxi owners who have opted to timeously recapitalise their old Siyaya “Skorro Skorro” taxis, have unknown to them purchased “fake” re-capitalised Toyota Quantums since 2005 and have lost their only source of income and life savings due to no fault of their own.
The report also fails to address the trend of non-homologised conversions. Toyota Quantum taxis and now also converted passenger-carrying Ford Rangers are being “registered” on the Department of Transport’s Natis system in what seems to be a legitimate, “over-the-counter” process. It would seem that adequate regulations and strict manufacturer restrictions in line with the factory-design and usage purpose are not being administered when registering these vehicles. These contraventions seem to have been taking place over a period dating back to 2005.
Conversions are only possible through a producer-involved process of homologation which includes rigidity testing. If these processes are not followed and the DoT continues to fail in acting against illegally converted taxis and ambulances, these unroadworthy vehicles will continue to find their way into private and public emergency and healthcare facilities across South Africa, as well as neighbouring countries such as Namibia and Botswana.
The lack of action on the part of the department will only serve to galvanise the culprits to now finding additional applications as in the case of the 70 Ford Ranger pick-up trucks which were converted to passenger-carrying transporters.
Many innocent and unsuspecting fare-paying commuters have been killed and maimed since this scam was exposed — for some reason Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) and The Department of Transport (DoT) were reluctant to recall these fake vehicles that were exposed in Toyota’s head-office correspondence to their dealer network as early as October 2005. Since then, the use of these fake Toyota Quantum taxis and ambulances have been continuing unabated.
The applicable homologation standard, under the South African National Standard (SANS), is published by Standards SA and is known as the SANS code 10267. Once a modification is going to be effected, a new homologation (second-tier homologation) process must be dealt with first, in order to ensure the “changed” vehicle complies with specific standards.
Local role players, such as TSAM and the DoT had the powers to recall these non-homologated vehicles at their own initiative when they were made aware of them in 2005. Superficial attempts have been made to address illegally converted vehicles through the current Taxi Recapitalisation Scheme (TRP). The TRP is nothing more than a quick-fix retrofitment conspiracy plan from 2010 where illegal taxis were “improved” to SABS safety standards by a DoT service provider without the correct homologation process being followed.
It is also important to note that the TRP safety standards are not on the same level as the internationallyacclaimed and recognised safety standards attributed to the brand name of Toyota Motor Corporation Japan.
TRP standards are merely there to set a standard of uniformity that all manufacturers have to adhere to at entry-level prior to them participating in the TRP scheme. The high international safety standards and comprehensive vehicle testing of manufacturers are not replaced by the TRP. The TRP merely focuses on cosmetic appearances and uniformity.
It is a matter of national concern that the TRP is being abused as an illegal way to try and justify the “fake” taxi and illegal ambulance situation that has led to the death of countless innocent commuters and other road users.
It is also concerning to note that TSAM and DoT for some unknown reason are still both refusing to recall these and other structural defective non-homologised vehicles now in use. The latest fatal accident recorded with a “fake” Toyota Quantum ambulance was as recently as 6 August 2019. Two months before that, an ambulance was sold to a provincial hospital despite the release of the Public Protector’s report five months earlier.
While the “marking” of 1,986 vehicles in March 2018 should be seen as a step in the right direction in addressing road safety, unsuspecting commuters, motorists and deceived taxi-owners are still at risk of injury and exploitation.
The DA sympathises with all those who have been, and still are, exploited in this scandalous abuse. The deliberate bypassing and manipulation of controls and systems at various checkpoints by officials has led to innocent, unsuspecting fare-paying commuters getting injured, or worse, killed.