On the road
Public Protector wants transport department to explain why taxis are still operating
committee to investigate illegal panel van conversions with Ndebele and Western Cape transport MEC Robin Carlisle in 2010.
Toyota also confirmed that it had offered to provide the department with engineering support to help it determine whether the vehicles could be converted, but was never asked to do so.
Department of transport
In 2013, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters told the Public Protector’s office that her officials called on the converted vehicle owners to take them to panel beaters to ensure they were converted properly and would comply with Taxi Recapitalisation Programme specifications. This was done despite the fact that Toyota refused to authorise any conversions. Last year, transport department spokesperson Sam Monareng told City Press that they did this because of the large number of illegally converted vehicles on the roads.
“The decision to make them compliant was the most practical option as commuters would not be stranded without transport and the vehicles would be upgraded to safer standards. Operators would have been without income and drivers without jobs,” he said. According to Madonsela’s notice, a memorandum sent in December 2009 to Peters’ predecessor, Ndebele, asked him to recall all converted panel vans.
“It is recommended that the minister approve that the department should completely prohibit the conversion of goods-carrying vehicles into passenger-carrying vehicles,” reads the memo from acting chief director of road transport regulation John Motsatsing.
In her notice, Madonsela says there was no evidence that this was done.
But about a month later, the acting chief director responsible for the Taxi Recapitalisation Programme, Kemantha Manilal, recommended to Ndebele that the conversions be approved.
“Ms Manilal concluded her request to the minister by stating that the safety integrity of the converted panel vans was not as poor as it was made out to be in public,” said Madonsela in the notice.
In February 2010, then deputy transport minister Jeremy Cronin supported the request by Ndebele “to officially legalise an illegal conduct”, Madonsela wrote.
The regulator’s account
The notice reveals that NRCS officials told the Public Protector that the organisation did not approve of illegally converted vehicles.
According to the regulator’s Taxi Recapitalisation Programme, there are no panel beaters registered by them or by the SABS to convert Toyota panel vans into passenger-carrying taxis. The notice says that because of this, and because Toyota did not approve of the conversions either, the government’s approval of the converted taxis “was therefore unlawful”.
De Beer’s submission
For more than three years, De Beer has collated information and accident reports involving converted panel vans. He told City Press this week that he was increasingly concerned that the illegal vehicles would be transporting thousands of people during the festive season.
“Livelihoods have been destroyed and many unsuspecting commuters have been sent to untimely deaths or have been mutilated in the most horrific accidents caused by these structurally unsafe and illegal Toyota conversions,” he said.