Transport department has gone ahead to register about than 2,000 dangerous “pseudo Quantums” for use on SA roads, despite warnings from the manufacturer that they are unsafe for human transport.
The Toyota company had in 2009, sent a note of warning to SA’s National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) — the body tasked with testing manufactured, converted and imported vehicles, to ensure that they meet our safety standards.
However, during a hearing into the conversions of panel-vans into minibus taxis, held by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, the transport department admitted receiving the warning but still went on registering the buses.
The complainant Hennie de Beer said the conversions were unsafe as the chassis and floors of the vehicles were weak because they were built to carry goods. But according to evidence by the enquiry, private companies having links to car dealers went on to convert them.
De Beer said also said the cutting out of the side panels to fit windows weakens the structure of the vehicle, with zero chances of survival in case of an accident.
Madonsela, who referred to the vehicles as “pseudo Quantams”, is trying to determine whether transport and other regulatory officials failed in their duties to protect commuters
Madonsela said Toyota refused to issue a letter of authority for its panel vans to be converted because they are commercial vehicles built to transport goods and not people but taxi owners, who were sold the panel vans in the taxi recapitalization drive, thought they were purchasing safe new Quantum Ses’fikile models.
The converted vans have passenger seats bolted onto the floor instead of the chassis of the vehicle while seatbelts are attached to the seats instead of the body of the vehicle, something which De Beer and others said is very unsafe.
ER24 spokesman Russel Meiring confirmed this when he was saying that a high percentage of taxi accidents, passengers are ejected from the vehicle.
“Your chances of survival decrease if you are ejected,” he said.
Though Public protector Madonsela stressed on the issue, deputy director general Mathabatha Mokonyane insisted that the department would rely on NRCS for advice.
According to him, after the defective minibuses were identified in 2007 a special task-team was set up to “retrofit” them, in an attempt to make them safer.
The transport department said a total of 2,353 converted panel vans were identified but it did not know how many were refitted and issued with licences. The department blamed the cause on taxi drivers who were reluctant to pay the additional R18, 000 required for additional safety measures, and government would not pay the amount.
Mokonyane also said could not explain how the department turned deaf ears to the warning of the manufacturer.
“Testimony said Toyota said no, the NRCS knew but went against them, trusting their own testing, which proved the manufacturer wrong, and they would proceed besides Toyota,” Madonsela said
De Beer revealed a documented proof that least 200 accidents have occurred in which passengers were flung from converted panel vans.
However, the transport Department director-general Chris Hlabisa agreed to co-operate with the enquiry to see it that the buses are removed.