Cape Town - Every bus commuter stranded on Wednesday as a result of the national transport strike should bear in mind one important fact: this strike is in aid of the commuting public almost as much as it is in support of the drivers.
The drivers do want better pay and this, of course,
does not directly involve commuters. But the drivers in this case are
also demanding conditions that will improve safety - and that is of direct
concern not only to every bus commuter, but to every road user.
As matters stand, the bus companies at a local
level are trying to enforce a “split shift” system to cater for the morning
and evening rush hours. They propose that drivers, who may spend an hour
or more getting to and from work, drive their buses for three hours in the
morning rush. They are then supposed to take an eight-hour break before
completing another five hours of driving to complete an eight-hour day.
Perhaps belatedly, road traffic authorities are
realising that driver fatigue is a major contributor to the annual carnage of
South Africa’s roads, as well as the number of bumps and scrapes in crowded
The more dramatic - and often tragic - cases involve buses, often on inter-city routes. In the case of coaches covering long distances, say from Johannesburg to Cape Town or vice versa, two drivers are provided who stay with the bus all the way, without adequate sleeping accommodation.
This is regarded as a 16-hour journey with each driver being
paid only for the time they have “a foot on the pedal”, in other words, a four
hours on, four hours off, scenario.
According to the drivers and their unions, this
amounts not only to financial exploitation but also contributes to danger on
the roads. They agree that minibus taxis, travelling long distances
between urban and rural areas, are involved in more accidents and pose an even
greater danger; they feel that this area should also be more closely
policed and that these drivers and their passengers should also be better
But with the bottom lines of both the bus companies and the taxi owners under pressure, they claim that safety may be sacrificed, along with hopes of achieving a “decent wage”. And the average wage itself, at R8 500 a month, given the responsibilities involved, does seem to justify a double-digit increase.