The Department of Transport has admitted to registering more than 2,000 dangerous “pseudo-Quantums” for use on the country’s roads, despite warnings from the manufacturer that they were unsafe for human transport.
The admission was made during a hearing by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela into the conversion of panel vans into minibus taxis.
Complainant Hennie de Beer said the conversions were unsafe as the chassis and floor of the vehicles were weak because they were built to carry goods and not people.
On Tuesday the inquiry was told that private companies, with links to car dealerships, were responsible for the conversions.
Madonsela, who referred to the vehicles as “pseudo-Quantums”, is trying to determine whether the department and regulatory officials failed in their duty to protect commuters.
Taxi owners, who were sold the panel vans in the taxi recapitalisation drive, thought they were buying safe new Quantum Ses’fikile models. Instead, the inquiry heard, they were sold vehicles made by Toyota to transport goods. Toyota issued a warning in 2009 to the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications to ensure the vehicles were tested to ascertain theymet safety standards.
Madonsela said Toyota refused to issue a letter of authority for its panel vans to be converted because the commercial vehicle was built to transport goods and not people.
The vans have passenger seats bolted on to the floor instead of the chassis. Seatbelts are attached to the seats instead of on the body of the vehicle. De Beer and others said these were not safe.
The inquiry heard that when the vehicles are involved in accidents passengers are often ejected from them, causing death or serious injury. ER24 spokesman Russel Meiring confirmed this yesterday, saying in a high percentage of taxi accidents passengers are ejected.
“Your chances of survival decrease if you are ejected,” he said.
Asked if the department knew of Toyota’s warning, deputy director-general Mathabatha Mokonyane said the department relied on the regulatory body for advice.
He said after the defective minibuses were identified in 2007 a special task team was set up to “retrofit” them, to try to make them safer.
“We legally modified, brought safety elements required for the taxi recapitalisation programme and [had them] tested by SA Bureau of Standards.” He said the regulatory body was part of the process.
The safety modifications included rollover bars to stop the vehicles from crumpling in an accident.
Mokonyane admitted illegal conversions could still be happening: “We are not denying that illegal conversions are happening.”
The department said a total of 2353 converted panel vans were identified but it did not know how many were refitted and issued with licences. This was because taxi drivers were reluctant to pay the additional R18000 for additional safety measures and the government would not pay the amount.
Mokonyane could not explain how the department overruled the warning of the manufacturer.
De Beer, who worked in the banking sector providing loans for the converted panel vans, complained to the Public Protector about the practice.
He said: “Lack of effective controls created a breeding ground for deception, fraud and syndication, with the ultimate purpose of exploiting the unsophisticated taxi owners for huge monetary gains.”
Cutting outside panels to fit windows weakened the structure, with zero chances of survival in an accident, De Beer said. He has documented at least 200 accidents in which passengers were flung from converted vehicles.
Speaking at the inquiry, transport director-general Chris Hlabisa said: “We will co-operate with the investigation. We will look at the option of removing the vehicles from the system.” – Additional reporting Shaun Smillie
By Sipho Mabena[Source: Times Live]