RTSA chief executive officer Zindaba Soko says they are looking at the Mercedes Benz Sprinter and the Toyota Quantum buses as models to replace the Hiace in three to five years time to make transport safer.

At a media briefing today, Soko said RTSA would engage stakeholders to discuss what model of buses was acceptable.

“For us to see how we can make the transport system safer, we are looking at the period of three to five years. When we talk of a specific model of a bus, we are looking at a model that will have seat belts, enough leg room, enough head room and ventilation so that the severity when there is a crash is reduced on the commuter. We have the Mercedes Benz Sprinter buses and Toyota Quantum buses as part of models that we are looking at. But that will be after members of the public, owners and the major stakeholders have agreed to and strike a balance that this is a better model to go for. After that is done, incentives are given after a period of time to sensitize you to give in your Hiace bus at a cost, so that we use it as a way of moving them out of market. It can’t be something that is immediate or sudden. A transition takes a lot of time but we need to start from somewhere and this is where we are starting,” Soko said.

“We want to do a lot of consultation firstly with the general members of public and then work out models with the Ministry of Finance on how the public can be sensitized to be able to purchase a more reasonable, comfortable and safer bus at the same cost that they are purchasing the Hiace buses.”

He said those who owned Hiace busses had up to January 2019 to ensure that they had seat belts and proper seats.

“There is no issue with those who have already purchased buses which have seats and seat belts. But those buses which were panel runs and have been made into Hiace buses to transport commuters, should have seat belts by January 2019. The option of Hiace minibuses which is here is that they must have correct seats and seat belts. You will find that a bus can come with eight seats [when bought], but then they will remove the eight seats so that the bus can carry 16 people hence causing a safety challenge,” Soko said.

He said that it was unfortunate that the issue of phasing out the Hiace buses was being politicized when it was for the safety of the general public.

“You will agree with me that with the nature of the Hiace minibus once you sit in it, the risk of you dying out of the crash is very high because all the commuters in the bus are squeezed. There is no leg room or head room and the injury rate gets enhanced because of the way that bus is engineered. What has been happening in all these crashes is that even when a crash has happened at a lower speed, you discover that because the passengers are so close to the body of the bus, they will get crashed or injured. So as RTSA we want a model that commuters will enjoy to ride without any problem. It is unfortunate that people have politicized this move when the idea is to make it safe in the country,” Soko said.

“This is a bus that carries goods in other countries and in here we get it and fabricate it to carry commuters. We are trying to sort out this problem which has been a big one because when the economy was liberalized, everybody could come in with whatever business and that was the time that type of transport came in. We had no control measures then to look at what would be the best for the nation.”