Banks warned of killer taxis

2010-12-12 15:18

Toyota South Africa, the Dep­artment of Transport and major finance houses allowed hundreds of death-trap taxis onto the country’s roads, official inquiry has found.

The report indicates s that they failed to act despite reports of accidents, deaths and injuries involving ­converted Toyota Quantum panel vans which were never intended to ferry passengers.

Adopted this month by the working committee of the Western Cape’s legislature, the hard-hitting report said that:
» Toyota SA “knew about the situation since 2005 but did little to protect its brand and patent design as well as to ensure the safety of commuters against illegal conversions”;

»?Banks and finance houses – ­despite having been warned by their own strategic intelligence ­report in 2005 – failed to exercise duty of care and continued to lend money;

» The Department of Transport took action against the illegal ­panel-van conversions only as late as August last year, after the issue was publicised in newspapers;

» The department “must explain how it can justify permitting these converted vehicles to continue trading despite having deemed them illegal”.

?» The department’s deputy director of transport regulation, accident and incident investigation, Zakhele Thwala, misled the committe while testifying under oath and should be prosecuted for purgery and contempt.
The shocking report is the result of an investigation and public hearings held in Western Cape in March. It heard testimony from 36 witnesses, among them senior banking bosses from Absa, Wesbank, Nedbank, Standard Bank and SA Taxi Finance, Toyota SA’s chief executive Dr Johan van Zyl and deputy transport minister Jeremy Cronin.

“Our whole system of public transport is seriously suspect in South Africa at the moment,” said committee chairperson Mark ­Wiley of the Democratic Alliance.

“There is a such a range of role players involved... and so many vested interests. Because there is R600?million involved, the (department) does not want to put pressure on financiers and the manufacturer because it will have a huge economic knock-on effect, so they turn a blind eye to something that is killing a lot of people.”

According to the department, 2?353 panel vans had been converted into taxis, bypassing “regulatory processes aimed at ensuring the safety standards of the taxi recapitalisation programme were met”.

Of that number, 1?592 were still being financed and belonged to finance houses. The report said the bulk of taxis were financed by SA Taxi Finance, which had 484 on its books, and Toyota Finance with 419 on its books. Nearly 800 were privately owned.

According to the report, converted vans show “horrendous shortcomings as passenger vehicles, with brake failure, loss of control at even reasonable speeds and ­virtual disintegration on impact”.

Toyota SA spokesperson Ferdi de Vos said they were “not yet in a position to comment as we have not had the opportunity to study the report and findings in full”.

Martin Bezuidenhout, the former chief executive of SA Taxi Finance – who was in the post when many of the vehicles were financed – said that “up until 2007, in terms of legislation, it was legitimate for Quantums to be converted into taxis.

“Since then there has been progressive improvement in safety of taxis. It is sometimes a little bit disingenuous to criticise the safety of vehicles over a given period and it’s a bit like taking a 1960s vehicle and saying it doesn’t have ABS brakes and all the modern safety features.”

Bezuidenhout said the company had committed R20?million to upgrading the safety of the taxis on its books.

He conceded there had been delays in implementing this because “specs had to be approved and ­fitment centres put in place”.

Sam Monareng, spokesperson for the department, said it was in the process of “retro-fitting” converted vehicles to bring them in line with safety requirements.

To date, however, only 120 vehicles had been retro-fitted and 400 applications had been received for vehicles to be modified.

Monareng conceded that an ­initial six-month grace period for upgrades to illegal taxis had proved “inadequate due to system challenges”.

He said the department was in discussions with the Special Investigating Unit to conduct further ­inquiries and “a preliminary report indicates that a more detailed ­investigation is required”.

He said no action would be taken against Thwala despite the findings against him.

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