Overloading here to stay
A toothless Santaco and lax laws allow too many people to squeeze into deathtraps
OVERLOADING has been blamed for several horror crashes in South Africa recently, with the usual calls by people in authority for this to stop.
But overloading is here to stay, as it is a cornerstone of the taxi system and the only way in which the omalume (uncles) who transport pupils in bakkies and midibuses can see a bit of profit as fuel prices keep on rising.
Santaco, which has proven itself toothless in the ongoing route wars between registered and unregistered taxi operators in Pietermaritzburg and Soweto, also has no plan to stop overloading and seems powerless to stop taxis from squeezing in standing passengers.
Every evening, every taxi in South Africa overloads to the point of bursting on the last ride home. This is because all the money from the last ride goes to the conductors, who prefer this system to getting a portion of each ride through the day.
Passengers pay less for the inconvenience of standing, but the extra numbers enable the conductor to earn his wage for the day. One conductor who wanted to remain nameless told Wheels they prefer this to getting a percentage of the day’s fees.
“We don’t know how many people we will get during the day, but we know how many people are waiting for the last ride each night.”
As for the omalume, Peggie Mars from Wheel Well, an organisation promoting road safety for children, said the National Road Traffic Act allows overloading of pupils.
According to Regulation 231, the number of children that may be carried in a vehicle is as follows: • Any child under the age of three is not counted. • Two children between the age of three and six are counted as one person. • Three children between the age of six and 13 are counted as two people.
“Thus in an eight-seater, there can legally be more than 16 children seated within that vehicle depending on their age,” said Mars.
Mars said this legislation needed to change, but meanwhile there should be a policy of “one bum per seat” in vehicles designed to transport children.
“I understand the socio-economic issues involved for lowincome and no-income families but there is no excuse for inadequate school transport,” she said.
She said parents should check if the “uncles” who transport their children used car seats.
“The transport of children should be considered as special transport where safety is the foremost consideration.
“The law does not support their safety yet, but through consumer pressure school transport will improve. Informed parents can drive the need for change,” she said.
Mars called on corporates to step in on the behalf of parents who do not have the finances or even the option of better transportation.
“Children in low income and very poor communities have no voice and their parents’ time and energy is consumed eking out a living. Corporate companies can sponsor transport for children and use unemployed community members to drive vehicles,” she said.
Managing director of MasterDrive Eugene Herbert agrees it is going to take more than just stricter consequences for drivers to stop overloading.
“The legal foundation needs to be in place.
“This starts with acknowledging that children are even more vulnerable in crashes and have a right to a proper seat and the correct restraints.
“Additionally, parents also need to play their role in ensuring this and in pressuring transport providers to do the same.
“If we do not work together to bring about this change, children will continue to be the ones who suffer the consequences,” said Herbert.
“In an eight seater, there can legally be more than 16 children seated, depending their age.”