All eyes on vehicles which transport pupils

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Copy of scholar transport INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Gauteng Education MEC Barbara Creecy accompanied inspectors as buses were tested for roadworthiness at the Randburg testing Station. Photo: Dumisani Sibeko

An engine with an oil leak, torn and loose seats, non-functioning wipers, no hooter, a cracked windscreen and worn shocks.

This is the condition of one of the 27 scholar transport buses that the Gauteng Department of Education took to the Randburg Testing Station on its massive safety test drive on Thursday.

The department spends R165 million a year on 117 bus companies that use their 700 buses to transport 50 000 Gauteng schoolchildren who live further than a 5km radius of their schools. The purpose of the operation was to check whether those buses are safe.

The operation started last week, when 485 buses were tested, with 285 passing the test and the rest failing.

On Thursday, 27 buses were tested, and 14 passed and the rest failed. The department also has four Putco buses in its fleet, and all of these passed the roadworthy test on Thursday.

Education MEC Barbara Creecy said all the owners of the buses that failed the roadworthy test would be given seven days to repair their fleet and return for a retest on July 13. If the bus is still defective then, it will be taken off the company’s fleet, its contract cancelled and the business given to another service provider.

In the past, Creecy said, they have had only two minor accidents. “We have a better safety record because of these safety checks and we feel that this process is bearing fruit. We feel we are taking precautions.”

The testing station manager, Charl van Heerden, said most of the problems they found with the buses were defective brakes, oil leaks and steering wheel defects.

While the focus was on the transport that the department subsidises, Creecy admitted that they were also concerned about private vehicles that transport children to school, and which parents organise themselves.

She said there was not much they could do as they had no leverage over them. All they could do, she said, was to depend on traffic police to clamp down on unroadworthy vehicles.

“We have no control over the arrangements that parents make. We know who is in our fleet, so we tell them to bring their buses for testing.”

Busaphi Nxumalo and Frik Nel of the Gauteng traffic police said that last month in Laudium, near Pretoria, they checked on private scholar transport and found that 95 of the 120 vehicles they checked were unroadworthy. In another case, they found that a VW minibus was carrying 28 children to school.

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