School transport safety under fireComment on this story
Durban - “Talk is cheap,” says the National Association of School Governing Bodies provincial spokesman, Reginald Chiliza.
Repeated promises by the KZN Department of Transport after serious accidents needed to translate into action.
“Just because people say something, it does not mean that they will deliver. Words mean nothing. Talk is cheap. Don’t say anything. Instead, show the changes you intend on bringing.”
Chiliza was commenting on Transport MEC Willies Mchunu’s pledge to do more about children being transported in bakkies after the crash near Mooi River on Monday in which five children died and 24 were injured.
Mchunu said the department would conduct an audit of schools and identify pupils who depended on bakkies for transport so they could prioritise them for their free scholar transport programme.
“In addition, we will look into the possibility of introducing a policy that prohibits pupils from using bakkies for transport,” Mchunu said.
Chiliza said that the association would be engaging with the education and transport departments to extend the free school bus system to more areas in the province.
The departments provide scholar transport to about 22 000 pupils at more than 210 schools and 9000 bicycles for pupils in both rural and urban communities.
“Parents are often forced to use any transport that can get their kids to school on time. They often travel many kilometres,” Chiliza said.
He said the school transport system needed to cater for all pupils going to all schools.
“For example, if a child is from Umlazi and goes to school in Durban North, there needs to be a service for him.”
He also called on principals to put pressure on the departments to provide transport for their pupils.
“The Department (of Transport) is too relaxed. All we hear about is preliminary findings. What happens to the in-depth investigations? And how are the findings used?”
“Bakkies are not meant to carry human beings. It’s just not humane.”
Transport Department spokesman, Nathi Sukazi, said
: “Saying ‘talk is cheap’ is as good as belittling the problem. Surely, no stakeholder should assume they know better than anyone else.
“We all want to see this kind of problem eradicated.”
Since 2012, when two minibus accidents took place resulting in the loss of 19 pupils in Bergville, the department had made a concerted effort to launch the free transport bus service for schoolchildren.
Even though there were bus routes in the area where the most recent accident took place, bakkies were often used as “feeder vehicles” to the main road, he said.
“The buses cannot navigate the gravel roads but the department is currently looking at ways to improve the roads to make it easier for the buses to go as close to the settlements as possible.”
In the past five years, the department had laid down more than 500km of tarred roads throughout the province.
“No matter what they say, we have done, and are doing, much more,” Sukazi said.
DOOR-TO-DOOR NOT POSSIBLE
He said it would be impossible to provide transport from the door of the pupils’ homes to schools because settlements in rural areas were widespread.
Meanwhile, KZN Parents’ Association South Durban chairman, Vee Gani, laid the blame at the door of both local government and parents.
“The department has the teeth and muscle to check on vehicles’ roadworthiness, the drivers’ aptitude and experience,” he said.
“But parents also need to know who is taking their children to school. What is the driver’s name? Do you have his number? They need to make sure that they are safe and are in a safe vehicle.”
President of the SA Principals’ Association, Marius Ehrenreich, agreed.
“Parents need to take responsibility for the safe transportation of their children.”
Traffic departments needed to patrol routes to and from schools to ensure vehicles carrying children were safe.
CALL FOR TIGHTER LAWS FOR BAKKIES
Independent traffic watchdog organisation, Fleetwatch, said on its website that whether the kids were being charged or not, the bakkies had to comply with certain guidelines to transport them.
“The root of the problem is that the road traffic legislation does NOT prohibit the conveyance of persons, children or adults, in the section of a goods vehicle intended for carrying goods, unless the conveyance is for reward in which case there is a total prohibition.”
They did furnish carriers with certain parameters. “If the children are sitting on the floor, the sides and rear door of the body must be 350mm high, and if standing 900mm high.
“The number of people, whether children or adults, is not specified.”
Motor cars, it said, were specifically designed for the conveyance of persons, and had all the modern devices for the safety of passengers such as seat belts, air bags, etc and the maximum number of persons permitted to be conveyed in a motor car is prescribed.
This organisation is one of many that have called on authorities to tighten legislation around this issue.
TEAM TO LOOK AT TRANSPORT
In a bid to tackle the problem of school children being transported to school in bakkies, the KwaZulu-Natal Departments of Education and Transport have formed a task team to fast track the implementation of the pupil transport policy in the province.
“This team will be jointly led by the head of department for education, Dr Nkosinathi Sishi and transport head Sbu Gumbi,” both departments said in a statement yesterday.
“We have an existing policy in place to guard against learners transported using improper transport. What we are doing now is to escalate the implementation of the policy and to address weaknesses in its implementation.
“This policy was developed after the province experienced a spate of fatal accidents involving learners last year.
The task team will look at all the weaknesses in the policy and ensure proper monitoring on the ground.”
It will fast track the implementation of the Provincial Policy on Learner Transport for Public Schools, which was launched last year.
The policy seeks to manage and oversee the implementation of integrated pupil transport services; ensure an effective management of pupil transport system; and to provide a safe and secure transport environment for pupils.