By Anna Shilongo
Government has promised to be lenient to bus and taxi operators that do not conform to stipulations on the number of seats permitted. The operators have now been given until December 31, 2008 to reduce the extra seats.
According to the Road Traffic and Transportation Act of 2001, bus and taxi operators have to conform to the minimum specifications of seats in passenger buses.
This provision stipulates that seating accommodation in buses transporting 16 and more passengers should be provided at a rate of 400 millimetres per person, or 380 millimetres per person in the case of a minibus with a carrying capacity of more than nine, but not more than 16 passengers.
But according to the Minister of Works, Transport and Communication, Joel Kaapanda, most of these vehicles were initially manufactured as panel vans.
Some bus owners and dealers opted to install smaller seats of 340 millimetres in their vehicles to allow space for additional seats that would provide a maximum payload in excess of 25 passengers.
Kaapanda said the enforcement of standards as required by the law has invoked discomfort and outrage in the industry.
“Therefore, the ministry after consultations with stakeholders decided to grant an exemption to all buses that have been in the system, notwithstanding their non-conformity to prescribed specifications.”
The exemption would remain in force until December 31, 2008, during which period the affected bus owners are expected to replace and adjust the configuration of seats in their buses.
In the meantime, he said, the Roads Authority has been instructed not to allow entry to the operation of buses that do not conform to prescribed specifications.
At the end of the exemption period, the minister said, no leniency would be extended to non-conforming buses, as such buses will be taken off the road until the problem is rectified.
“In addition, I am glad to announce that Cabinet at its ordinary meeting of 12 December 2007 also gave its blessing to the ministry’s proposal to grant relief to our nationals who find themselves heavily in debt due to non-payment of vehicle license fees as well as failure to deregister their dysfunctional vehicles,” he said.
The relief is in the form of a blanket amnesty which aims to waive all accumulated arrear licence fees and associated penalties in the range of plus/minus N$300 million, so as to allow defaulting vehicle owners to start from a clean slate.
“In turn, the measure will result in a more accurate and clean vehicle register, as duplicate records on the database as well as vehicles that are no longer fit for use will also be removed from the active database,” he said.
The amnesty will run for four months, from February 1, 2008 to May 31, 2008. Only those whose debt accumulated on or before December 31, 2007 will benefit from the amnesty.
The Roads Autho-rity in collaboration with officials from the ministry will mount an extensive media campaign before and throughout the amnesty period to sensitise all vehicle owners on the process to be followed in this regard.
At the expiry of the amnesty, stringent mechanisms will be in place to prevent the reoccurrence of the problem. The minister is hopeful that all affected persons will appreciate and make use of the gesture to get their buses and vehicles’ status in order.