Taxi drivers to march in Pretoria

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pretoria - Taxi drivers are preparing a march to the Union Buildings today, in protest against government's implementation of the AARTO demerit system.

More than 20 000 taxi drivers, including 40 taxi associations, are set to participate in the march against the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) system saying government should reconsider its implementation. AARTO is a demerit points system that is geared towards making drivers comply with the rules of the road.

The march, organized by the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu), is expected to start at 9am at the corner of Struben and Cowie Streets.

Traffic Senior Superintendent Alta Fourie told BuaNews three roads, including Vermeulen, Struben and Edmond will be closed until 2pm. "Struben Street between DF Malan Drive and Cowie Street, Vermeulen Street between Beatrix and Church Street as well as Edmond Street between Government Lane and Vermeulen Street would be closed.

"All the other intersections will only be sealed off when the participants crossed the respective intersection, but as soon as they do, they will be reopened," she said.

Fourie said more traffic officers had been deployed to the Pretoria city centre in anticipation of the march. About 60 traffic officers, including the SAPS members, will be deployed in various intersections across the city to control the traffic and maintain law and order during the march.

With the AARTO system, drivers lose points when they commit traffic offences. All drivers have 12 merit points to start with and lose them depending on the severity of the offence. This could eventually lead to the suspension of one's licence. However, points can also be earned through good behavior.

Satawu is concerned that the AARTO would threaten the jobs of its members as drivers will lose their licenses, once the points are exhausted.

Justice Project South Africa has urged the public to note that the march will not only be by taxi drivers, but also professional drivers, including those driving heavy load transport vehicles that keep the economy moving in the absence of a working rail freight system.

It said the implementation of AARTO as it stands would have disastrous consequences for business - more especially when the demerit points system is brought into play in 2011.

"This could see vehicles for which there are fully licenced drivers waiting to drive them being suspended from operation, not necessarily because they are unroadworthy but because they manage to toll up demerit points that affect operators, thus preventing the drivers, many of which are paid per load, from earning a living," said the Justice Project.

It further said that instead of engaging with stakeholders and working to resolve the issues and grave concerns raised with regards to AARTO, the RTMC, RTIA and Department of Transport has forged ahead with their own plans and agendas, announcing, repealing and re-announcing the further rollout of AARTO.

It said while the system had been piloted in Pretoria, no publication of the results of the pilot and areas which were identified as problematic had been publicly announced. "In fact, all that has happened is that the problems identified by concerned parties outside of the government and parastatals have been seen to worsen considerably," said the Justice Project.

However, government has conceded that challenges were identified during the pilot phase, including weaknesses and loopholes in the legislative framework, the system requirements for efficient interface with various entities and uploading to the National Contraventions Register (NCR) and the online, real-time updating of the NCR as well as lack of knowledge from motorists on how the system works.

A comprehensive public media campaign and consultative programme was to be put in place to better educate the public about the system.

The RTMC put the brakes on the roll out of AARTO in the country's four metropolitans a day before it was to be introduced in Ekurhuleni, Ethekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay and the City of Cape Town in June, as additional time was required to address some of the challenges.

The date for the national implementation of AARTO is yet to be announced by Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele.