Durban – Concerns have been raised about the use of panel vans as ambulances and taxis after 70 new Ford Ranger vehicles were denied roadworthy tests at a Durban testing station this week.
The vehicles already had Department of Health Eastern Cape branding and registration plates.
It is alleged that the Rangers were converted into passenger-carrying vehicles in a similar fashion to the panel vans that are unlawfully converted into taxis for operation on the country’s roads.
DA Transport spokesperson Chris Hunsinger has called on Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula to take action against those who illegally convert vehicles into taxis and ambulances.
“The department has been aware of this practice and the existence of illegally converted vehicles since 2005 but failed to act decisively.
“It has also emerged that panel vans are also now being illegally converted into ambulances,” he said.
Hunsinger said the party had written to Mbalula to act immediately as these vehicles compromised road safety and placed millions of road users in life-threatening situations.
“The fact remains that these Toyota Quantum taxis, ambulances and now also converted passenger carrying Ford Rangers are being registered on the eNatis system,” he said.
He said conversions were only possible through a producer-involved process of homologation that included rigidity-testing.
Homologation is the process of certifying or approving a product to indicate that it meets regulatory standards and specifications, such as safety and technical requirements.
The national regulator for compulsory specifications is responsible for homologation in the automotive sector.
According to its website, to homologate a vehicle, a sample must be supplied for evaluation, supported by a large body of documented evidence provided by the original manufacturer, including inspection and test reports compiled by recognised laboratories or inspection authorities.
Hunsinger said the illegally modified vehicles were not able to carry certain weight.
“At least 170 crashes are currently being analysed. Most converted panel vans lose control in crashes.
“They also do not have the capacity to drive at high speeds,” he said.
Spokesperson for the South African National Taxi Council, Thabisho Molelekwa, said this issue was not new.
“This was raised in 2005 and has been problematic to deal with. At the time, we found that government expected owners to get rid of the vehicles but they were not able to reimburse them.
“It was also revealed that there was collusion between certain dealerships, banks and politicians, so one cannot blame the taxi industry,” he said.
Molelekwa said that in 2010, the government promised to take action against politicians and others found to be colluding in the conversion of vehicles.
“We are asking for the Department of Transport to work with us and suggest that banks find a way to pay back operators who are no longer able to use these vehicles to make a living.
“We want them to at least offer the operator R250000 per vehicle,” he said.
Molelekwa said some operators had already lost revenue as they were unable to get their converted vehicles licensed, which did meet the criteria.
Regarding the converted vehicles for the Eastern Cape Health Department, National Health Department spokesperson Popo Maja said the department was of the understanding that all conversions had homologation certificates.
“We will check with the Eastern Cape Emergency Services,” he said.
Approached for comment on the converted vehicles, the Transport Ministry did not comment on the Ford Rangers issue.
It said during the launch of the Revised Taxi Recapitalisation Programme this year, Mbalula had said at the heart of the programme was ensuring that vehicles used to ferry commuters met the safety standards.
“In enabling the effective phasing out of unsafe vehicles and introduction of those that meet the safety standards, government provides a capital subsidy in the form of a scrapping allowance.
“This allowance is only accessed by those who voluntarily surrender their vehicles that meet a pre-defined criteria to be scrapped,” he said.
Mbalula said 1464 applications for scrapping of old taxi vehicles had been received and processed.
The process of scrapping 1000 illegally converted panel vans had begun, and this would be followed by the scrapping of other vehicles, where applications for scrapping had been successful.