Statement by Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin at the media briefing on illegal panel van conversions, Emperor’s Palace, Ekurhuleni
5 Mar 2010
Transporting some 64 percent of all public transport users in South Africa and providing jobs for an estimated 400,000 workers, the minibus sector continues to be the back-bone of mobility and access for a majority of South Africans. However, it is no secret that the sector is confronted with many challenges.
Over the past 15 years, government has introduced several important initiatives to help transform the sector including formalisation, legalisation and democratisation. We are also seeking to transform, where feasible, minibus services into active components of integrated public transport networks in our towns and cities. Important, but uneven, progress has been made on all of these fronts.
It is also notable that, despite the inherent volatility and fragmentation of the sector and despite major challenges of over-trading on many key routes, the levels of endemic violence have also subsided considerably over the past several years.
In addition to all of the above measures, government has been involved in an ambitious multi-year taxi recapitalisation programme (TRP). This involves scrapping older vehicles and subsidising the acquisition of a new fleet, with enhanced safety specifications.
Some 136,000 minibus vehicles qualify for eventual recapitalisation. To date, nearly a quarter, a total of 32,000 of these taxis have been scrapped and replaced with newer vehicles.
In the course of last year, however, the Department of Transport became aware that supposedly as part of the TRP process some 2 353 panel vans had been illegally converted into passenger-carrying minibuses and their compliance with the new, enhanced safety standards of the TRP was uncertain.
In terms of the National Road Traffic Act, Act 93 of 1996, the conversion of commercial vehicles to passenger vehicles is indeed permissible. However, there is a homologation process to be followed in order to render such conversions legal. In the case of the 2 353 converted panel vans in question these processes were by-passed.
On 4 August 2009, Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele announced that the department had initiated an investigation into these illegally converted panel vans. We have since handed over information to the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) requesting them to pursue the possibility of serious fraudulent and other criminal activity in this regard. We have good reason to believe that some dealerships, some manufacturer-importer builders (MIBs), those doing conversions and some officials in traffic licensing departments knowingly bypassed legal requirements and also fraudulently changed documentation.
The SIU investigations are still underway and we trust that they will be pursued vigorously. In the meanwhile the Department of Transport (DOT) has introduced remedial measures, including a drastic restriction of access to inputting and/or changing data on the eNatis system.
However, while the investigations must be vigorously pursued, it is obvious that we are also dealing with a major socio-economic challenge out there on the roads, with the livelihoods and mobility of tens if not hundreds of thousands of people potentially affected. Institutions that have financed many of these vehicles are also at risk. In most cases we are dealing with operators who have poured their life-savings into what they believed, in good faith, was a legitimate TRP compliant vehicle.
To address these concerns the DOT established a technical team to establish facts and make recommendations on a way forward. The team comprised of representatives from the Department of Transport, the taxi industry, financial institutions, National Association of Automobile Manufactures of South Africa (NAAMSA), the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and the National Regulator for Compulsory Standards (NRCS). Based on the outcome of the investigation, the technical team has recommended a process whereby these illegal panel van conversions can be legalised so that we have vehicles that are indeed compliant TRP standards.
In the first place, we needed to establish the extent to which the illegal conversions complied, if at all, with the new, additional safety requirements of the TRP process. These requirements are:
* type two brake testing
* tilt testing
* roll-over protection
* seat and seatbelt anchorage.
Extensive tests were carried out on these converted panel vans by the SABS in relation to the required TRP safety requirements. These vehicles passed the type two brake testing, the tilt testing and the roll-over protection tests.
However, the tests established that the seat and seatbelt anchorages failed to meet the strength requirements of the TRP. After testing various seat and seatbelt combinations, an appropriate combination was found which exceeded the minimum requirements of the TRP. The compliancy test phase of this project has been successfully concluded. From the results of the tests, it is permissible to upgrade the existing panel van conversions by strengthening the seat and seat-belt anchorage, in order to ensure compliance with the safety requirements of the TRP.
The industrialisation of the rework package, including the seats and seat mounting rails, has now also been completed. The seats and the mounting rails have been tested and approved by the SABS.
A sample vehicle was prepared and presented to the National Regulator for Compulsory Standards for approval of TRP compliance. This process was successful.
The manual that documents this process as well as the compliance requirements has also been completed. We will now need to ensure that the re-fit process is transparent and does not open other doors for any further illegal activities. An approved builder has been granted an eNatis number and all the modified vehicles will be re-registered onto the new eNatis number.
This process will also allow for proper record keeping which will ensure that, at the end of the six-month grace period, all the identified vehicles are legally compliant. If not, they will be impounded. TFM is the company that has been appointed to conduct the modifications nationally. They have branches throughout the country and will also utilise approved sub-contractors. Other builders are not precluded from this process but would have to undergo vigorous testing to obtain the necessary SABS and NRCS approvals to provide the service. This process will be closely monitored and coordinated by the Department of Transport.
A call centre is already available and will be the starting point for any operator who has an illegally converted panel van. It is at this point where it will be established if the vehicle is financed or privately-owned. The relevant financial institution will be contacted to establish the liability of the costs and the requisition of an order number. The order number will be forwarded to TFM and a booking date and venue will be secured for the necessary retro fitments to take place. The owner will then be contacted and informed of the arrangements. In the case of a privately-owned vehicle, the owner will be expected to cover the costs of the retro fitments and then follow the necessary processes to claim back.
TFM will maintain its own database and feed back to the centralised call centre on a weekly basis. It is expected that the service provided by TFM will be an all-inclusive process of conducting the approved retro fitment as well as the necessary administration to ensure that the vehicles are all registered onto eNatis with the correct information.
We want to thank all the stakeholders who have been part of this process.
With less than 100 days to go to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the inevitable question will arise: will there be illegally converted panel vans transporting South African fans and visitors? We need to point out that we have gazetted regulations for the event that transport providers must comply with. Illegally converted panel vans that have still not been retro-fitted will not meet these requirements.
In any case, we have also been assured, and this applies to the general South African commuting public, that it should be possible to complete the great majority of conversions long before mid-June.
As the Department of Transport we remain committed to ensuring the provision of safe, efficient, reliable and affordable public transport.
Issued by: Department of Transport
5 March 2010
Issued by: Department of Transport
5 Mar 2010
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