Over­load­ing here to stay

A tooth­less San­taco and lax laws al­low too many peo­ple to squeeze into death­traps

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - AL­WYN VILJOEN

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.”

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