School transport in the spotlight

Around 300 stakeholders in the scholar transport industry filled the Westridge civic centre on Friday to listen to the MEC for Mobility Ricardo Mackenzie.

Unroadworthy vehicles, unlicensed drivers and bending of rules by the transport operators were among the issues raised during the Scholar Transport Open Day hosted by MEC for Mobility, Ricardo Mackenzie, on Friday July 14, at Westridge civic centre.

With schools opening for the third term this week and following the death of six pupils after a crash on AZ Berman Drive, in Mitchell’s Plain, on Tuesday May 30, the Western Cape Department of Mobility gathered transport stakeholders to look for solutions.

Mr Mackenzie stressed that companies and individuals offering scholar transport services are required by law to have an operating permit, a public driving permit and a roadworthy vehicle, among other things.

He started his speech by reminding the gathering of the crash in Mitchell’s Plain, which has claimed the lives of six pupils after a Grade 8 pupil died of his injuries in hospital on July 6. Five primary-school pupils were also killed. He said coincidentally a week before it happened his government had a meeting with scholar transport stakeholders.

“We met the Friday before the incident happened. That is why we need a solution for scholar transport. Schools are opening this week. Mothers might be asking questions, who is going to take my child, will she/he be safe and will the car be a safe vehicle? How do we work together to find a solution? How do we assist those without licences and unregistered vehicles?”

The MEC said the meeting was not aimed at pointing fingers at anyone but finding a solution. He said scholar transport was an important function but it needed to be done properly.

“We do appreciate them but we expect them to have licences, to take our children to school safely, and to treat them with love and kindness. These drivers are the first to wake up and fetch our children. Our children are the first people they see in the morning. The question is, what more do they need from the government?”

Mr Mackenzie urged the stakeholders to ensure that vehicles transporting children are roadworthy and not overloaded. He also used the opportunity to inform the transport operators what services are available to them and train them on how to use the online portal to apply for operating licences.

Joined by officials from the Western Cape Education Department, City of Cape Town and other stakeholders, Mr Mackenzie told parents and guardians to check the validity of the vehicle’s operating disc.

He said the campaign will go to other areas along the West Coast, Beaufort West and Overberg.

Clive Arries, chairman of the Metro South Education District Principals’ Forum, called for better working relationships with scholar transport operators, saying as principals were concerned about issues including overloaded and unroadworthy vehicles, unlicensed drivers and pupils being transported by those without the required permits.

“For too many years the lives of the pupils have been compromised,” said Mr Arries.

He said that was his observation and that of his fellow teachers and parents. He said most of these operators drive on the shoulder of the road, speed, overload the vehicle and jump the red robots with precious children on board.

He reminded the operators that children, “need to be loved; they are valuable, precious and many times the children who are using the transport are from disadvantaged homes. Please be considerate. Please drop them in a designated area,” he said, adding that too many times drivers do not pick the children up after school and the schools have to find alternative ways for them to get home. He called for the service to be declared an essential service.

The newly appointed chairperson of the Scholar Transport Board, Denver van Aarde, reminded all that the industry is not a lucrative one but it has managed to produce doctors, lawyers and responsible parents.

He said the industry is serving its community with care. “We have heard the concerns. We are not a lucrative industry. We are in the business of uplifting our communities. We wake up early to serve our country. Many have labelled us an illegal industry but we are trying our best to do things the right way,” he said.

The defiant Mr Van Aarde said no permit will stand in their way to serve their communities.

He said the industry has concerns too, including about the drivers who are not following the rules. But he said that will be ironed out when they have one body to represent all the scholar transport operators. “We need to have a body to represent all of the scholar transport so that we can have one voice. We try to be compliant on the road but there are obstacles that the government knows,” he said and called for the scholar transport operators to belong to an association.

The scholar transport stakeholders came from all over the Cape Metro to attend the meeting, which the mobility department said would not be the last.

Afterwards, some were advised how to apply for licences online.

The MEC for Mobility, Ricardo Mackenzie is concerned about the scholar transport industry.
Clive Arries, chairman of the Metro South Education District Principals’ Forum, is not happy with how the scholar operators treat the children.
Children from Summerdale High in Lentegeur go through some drills.
Chairperson of the Scholar Transport Board Denver van Aarde said his industry is doing all it can to be compliant.