Editorial Comment: Bus fire wake up call for continual public transport inspections Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Felix Mhona said that as soon as his ministry found the owners were using a bus without the required inspection and certificate, took prompt action and had the company’s transport operating licence cancelled. The action was severe, but then so was the decision to put an uninspected and apparently unroadworthy bus on the road. 

The fire that gutted a Pashon Link Coaches bus on Sunday night, killing eight Anglican pilgrims, seemed from initial reports to have originated from the engine compartment and was a mechanical fault, not an accident.

What made the incident even more horrifying was that the bus did not have a certificate of fitness, a standard requirement for all public service vehicles to be regularly inspected by the Vehicle Inspectorate Department (VID) to at least minimise the risk of accidents and other dangerous faults. 

It has also been reported that the bus was not running properly on its final journey, and that several faults appeared before smoke started streaming from the engine compartment.

Perhaps if the bus had been inspected, the fault that caused the accident could have been found earlier. But a bus company that had safety as one of its central concerns would in any case want the periodic inspections and almost certainly would be running buses that could pass a snap inspection without any problems.

How a bus that had obvious faults, regardless of a fitness certificate, was allowed on the roads is something that needs to be explained. For a mechanic to pass the bus, or the owners to take the risk, seems incredible.

Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Felix Mhona said that as soon as his ministry found the owners were using a bus without the required inspection and certificate, took prompt action and had the company’s transport operating licence cancelled. The action was severe, but then so was the decision to put an uninspected and apparently unroadworthy bus on the road. 

This fire was different from so many accidents, where human era by a driver causes the accident. This was again human error, that deliberate flouting of the rules by placing a potentially dangerous bus on the road, and certainly ignoring the rule for a successful inspection.

The police are still investigating, and obviously have access to skilled mechanical assistance from the VID as well as the statements from the surviving passengers. 

The police obviously want to find out what happened, but also want to know if criminal charges should be laid against the owners of the business company.

The absence of the fitness certificate is obviously one charge, but the decision to use a bus with faults on a hire service could well generate others. 

Under Minister Mhona and the Second Republic the Transport Ministry has been tightening up the enforcement of the many sensible regulations designed to ensure public transport is as safe as possible and has been introducing new policies to make the safety enforcement as automatic as possible.

So we saw the two companies whose racing buses caused a fatal accident having their licences suspended, and only reactivated when the two companies fixed their internal operations to the satisfaction of the ministry. That move also told the industry that safety rules were not negotiable, and the companies either followed them or would be unable to operate.

That certainly helped to concentrate the minds of both owners and drivers. 

There have been accidents since then but in several cases loss of control did not lead to the usual fatalities because the buses were travelling within speed limits and so the drivers were able to bring the bus to a halt without the sort of smash that kills.

More recently the ministry adopted the policy, and the Minister through a gazetted statutory instrument made this compulsory, for all buses to have the monitoring equipment that allows owners to continually check on their drivers and a modest single police post to keep an eye on every bus on the roads. 

This is a sensible and innovative use of satellite technology that many bus owners have come to like, since they can now keep an eye on their drivers and know where every bus in their fleet is, and which has improved safety.

The holdouts appear to be the companies that feel over-control of buses will reduce profits.

The lack of a fitness certificate for the bus that exploded into fire on Sunday suggests that there is need for a general inspection of all buses and kombis operating on the roads. They are all supposed to undergo these periodic inspections and carry the certificate with them for checking by any authorised officer.

While the police and VID do make an effort to check all certificates during the major public holiday weekends, it seems that this needs to be continuous. It would seem sensible to have the check made as a bus goes through a toll gate, and that can be done very quickly, almost instantly. This would at least ensure that others do not put unserviceable buses on the road.

At the same time when the police investigations are complete into the Sunday fire, we hope that appropriate stern action is taken so that every bus owner understands that their buses must be roadworthy, and that drivers can be given legal protection if they refuse to take a faulty bus out of the                           depot.

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