Johannesburg - The National Taxi Alliance on Sunday distanced itself from reports that it knows about some 4 000 Toyota Quantum panel vans having been illegally converted to taxis.
Converted Quantum row re-erupts
The alliance was only involved in the production and endorsement of the approved Toyota Quantum semi-luxury minibus and the Ses'fikile model, chair Sicelo Mabaso said.
He was responding to a Sunday Times report that some 4 000 illegally converted taxis were operating on South African roads and had even been used to ferry Confederations Cup soccer fans to stadiums last month, despite their questionable safety standards.
Some of the taxis were found to have their seats bolted onto thin steel floors instead of onto the chassis. Windows were cut into the van, weakening the vehicle's structure. They also did not have the required rear roll bar.
An impact would crumple the vehicle's flat roof and rip seats loose, hurling passengers to their deaths, the newspaper reported.
The Gauteng Taxi Council's Michael Yende was quoted in the report as saying: "We will continue to take the risk and work with these taxis until we're physically forced to stop."
Mabaso explained that there were three types of Quantums, which included the semi-luxury, Ses'fikile and flat-roof minibus. He said he was not sure if the latter met safety regulations.
"The other two were approved by the department of transport and the SABS (South African Bureau of Standards)..."
He said the alliance was involved in talks that preceded their production.
Mabaso, however, said there were members of the alliance who owned the converted flat-roof Quantums who might not be protected against losses that might arise from the vehicles being called off the roads.
"These vehicles have certificates of fitness and buyers were supposed to have been informed of their illegality [prior to buying them], if they are illegal.
"Though I cannot confirm that indeed the flat-roofs are illegal, I have been asking myself for a while why Toyota did not launch them properly like the other Quantums."
Converted panel vans
According to SA Taxi Finance chief executive Martin Bezuidenhout, whose company handled 584 converted taxis between 2005 and 2008, the vehicles were legal from 2005 until the last quarter of 2007, when regulations came into force designating them as illegal.
"In October 2008 we recognised that there was a problem in that there were issues in licensing the vehicles.
"We conducted our own investigation in partnership with our vehicle identification desk and found that legal documents only stated that they were recapitalisation taxis and nothing about being converted panel vans."
However, Bezuidenhout said due to the taxis being legal between 2005 and 2008, there were currently some that were legal and only a portion were not.
"The legal documentation is the problem, because it does not state that the taxis were converted," he said. This made it difficult to identify illegally converted taxis on the government system.
Bezuidenhout said the 4 000 converted taxis that were reportedly illegal merely needed to be made safe.
Thousands of South Africans used the taxis daily. There were also concerns about the safety of tourists during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
"We became aware of the problem in October 2008 and approached government with some proposals, and even though they have intervened we are now in July and the intervention is not speedy enough," said Bezuidenhout.
The Democratic Alliance called on the government to take responsibility by removing the vehicles from the roads and paying compensation costs.
"The department of transport needs to shoulder the blame for reports of 4 000 Toyota Quantum panel vans being converted into taxis without meeting roadworthiness regulations," it said in a statement.
"It appears that despite being aware of the problem all along, the department has taken no corrective steps.
"The compensatory costs would be far cheaper than the lives that may be lost and the litigation that may follow if these vehicles are not removed from our roads."
The transport department was not available to comment.
"These things cannot be converted"
* On Monday, a Toyota SA spokesperson told Wheels24 that the company had no comment.
"Nothing has changed since our statements issued in 2005," he said. "These things (Quantum panel vans) cannot be converted.
"Toyota SA is looking into the matter in terms of what's going on, but this is between government and the taxi associations."