/ 17 December 2008

Bus operator’s KZN licence withdrawn

National bus operator SA Roadlink had its licence to operate in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) withdrawn on Wednesday, the province’s transport minister said.

Provincial minister Bheki Cele announced in Durban that from midnight on Friday December 19, no SA Roadlink bus would be allowed to operate within the province.

He said the permit to operate had been withdrawn, pending the outcome of an investigation into Tuesday morning’s crash involving an SA Roadlink bus and two other vehicles, which claimed the lives of 11 people.

”We withdraw all concurrencies granted to SA Roadlink to operate in this province pending finalisation of investigation. They stop operating here come Friday midnight.”

SA Roadlink risk manager Herman Steyn said the first that the operator had heard of their licence being suspended was through the media.

He said the company had not been informed by the KwaZulu-Natal transport department and that the company would comment once it had been in direct contact with the department.

Cele, addressing a media conference in Durban, said he did not think greater use of an improved train service would prove safer than a safe bus service.

It emerged during a briefing by Hibiscus Coast Protection Services head Victor Chetty of how emergency services dealt with Tuesday’s accident, that a great portion of the body of the bus was made of fibreglass and did not have any reinforcement such as roll bars.

”We will have to raise our concerns with SABS [South African Bureau of Standards] and the [national] Department of Transport. Maybe, like the taxi industry, the time has come to recap buses,” he said.

Asked about addressing the solidity of buses, Cele said that while the provincial department could deal with the operational aspects of public transport, it would have to consult with the national Transport Department as well as the SABS to address the quality and sturdiness of the buses being imported into the country.

Cele said all public-transport vehicles — taxis, minibus taxis and buses — that were caught speeding, overloading and being in an unroadworthy condition would be confiscated and impounded.

”We won’t just issue a ticket, we will arrest the driver and impound the vehicles,” he said.

At the press conference he announced that on Wednesday morning an SA Roadlink bus that had been previously declared unroadworthy had been stopped on the N3 near Estcourt in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands.

He said it had not been re-certified to operate on the province’s roads.

SA Roadlink has a history of accidents in the province and several of its buses have been declared unroadworthy by provincial authorities in the past two years.

On Christmas Eve in 2006, an SA Roadlink bus crashed into the pillar of a bridge, resulting in the death of 12 people.

The Automobile Association’s (AA) head of public affairs, Rob Handfield-Jones, said: ”The AA has long been critical of the state of roadworthiness of long-distance passenger coaches, not to mention the driving standards of bus drivers and the need for driving hours and fatigue to be addressed.”

He said the AA had raised the issue of bus safety at Parliament’s transport portfolio committee earlier in the year.

”The fatality risk for bus passengers rose by more than 30% between 2005 and 2006 alone, and we feel that strong steps by the government are needed to ensure that bus operators provide passengers with safe, reliable transport service for which they pay.

”We applaud the swift action by the [provincial minister] in light of Tuesday’s KZN crash involving an SA Roadlink bus. We hope that his colleagues in other provinces will take similar steps and that bus operators will take note of this development,” he said. — Sapa