Transport terror

2008-12-23 00:00

SA ROADLINK might have thwarted Transport MEC Bheki Cele’s attempt to take its buses off the road by winning an urgent High Court order against officialdom, but it — and its passengers — could well find this a Pyrrhic victory. Public opinion on this issue is solidly behind the minister, given the appalling safety record of long-distance bus transport in general and SA Roadlink (six accidents involving 27 deaths and nearly 200 injuries, some of them critical, in the past two years) in particular. There will, therefore, be general satisfaction that eight buses, five of them belonging to SA Roadlink, were impounded in Pietermaritzburg over the weekend, either for being unroadworthy or for not carrying the necessary permits to operate in the province. Long may the Road Traffic Inspectorate keep up the good work.

But simply checking every long-distance bus on the road is not enough. In the short term, there needs to be a centralised information centre where passengers can report instances of dangerous driving — which should be both recorded and acted upon. In the longer term, there needs to be a full inquiry into the safety aspects of the entire industry. Press investigations, for instance, have revealed that some drivers have done 38-hour shifts. The driver involved in the most recent crash on the N2 which killed 11 people, for instance, had reportedly driven from Johannesburg to Cape Town, whereupon he was told to drive to Durban without having had any rest. Small wonder he crashed. Apparently drivers do not receive a basic salary but are paid on the basis of the number of hours they drive. The temptations to which such a system of remuneration exposes them are obvious.

The people who use long-distance buses are not affluent. If they could afford it, they would either fly to their destinations or go in their own cars. They are the little people liable to be victimised by unscrupulous bus operators. It is their interests, above all, which need to be looked at in any inquiry, not only to ensure that they arrive at their destinations safely, but that they are treated with consideration and courtesy by the bus companies into whose hands they entrust themselves.

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