Learner transport safety summit: a new paradigm in practice

MMABATHO– How are learners safe when streets don’t teach the rules of the road intuitively? It is not a difficult question. If streets were designed to communicate intuitively to the people who use them, then the first piece of paving would not reflect a muddy puddle of water. Instead we would seem enough space for a young person to learn, narrate and write their path through societal norms of roadway use. Neglecting good quality infrastructure associated with good patient planning might cause more harm than good. As these boys walked, I knew they had nowhere else to go but to step on the tarmac. This is a norm.

On the 25th April 2019, a Learner Transport Safety Education Summit & Career Exhibition was hosted by Let Facilitators at the Mmabatho Convention Centre in the North West Province with the aim of “Making every journey to school a safe one”. The engagement involved a multi-stakeholder approach to formulating learner transport user and operator behavioural codes to ensure a consistent approach to safety in a manner that is self-reinforcing.

We’re not perfect

In a piece about contracts of trust on the manner in which roads are used, I argue that children do not know the contract they sign by being and using our roadways. Behavioural codes described during the summit included basic manners in scholar transport vehicles for both operators and learners. For learners could sometimes vandalise vehicles; cause fights and behave in a manner that is so distracting that it puts the driver (who has to reprimand them) at risk. Furthermore, some drivers experience the operating environment as rather dangerous: walking out of the bus to be assessed with higher blood pressure, and shivering from the strain emerging from learner behaviour. On the other hand, operators may use one bus for multiple trips in order to reduce costs and earn more money. This may result in learners being late, in addition to the operator driving fast to reach all the stops. During the summit, painful stories were shared, and difficult narratives were presented. While entities like Equal Education fight for the right to access education, operators need support structures to ensure that they serve learners effectively. Meanwhile, questions remain about how scholar transport contracts are designed, managed and monitored. These issues are nation wide, and vary across sectors. However, good behaviour should not be considered as a given.

Stakeholders revealed the difficult trade-offs

While the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) representatives revealed that they have decided to delve into the incorporation of road safety into the Life Orientation curriculum, the South African National Small Bus Owners Council argued that it is difficult to reform when operators are not paid on time. Learners spoke very passionately about their commitment to behaving in an orderly fashion in the scholar transport services, but educators were uncertain of their role in ensuring that his happens. One of the recommendations was that a new body of scholar transport inspectors needs to be introduced in order to ensure the longevity, and durability of the behavioural code. Simultaneously, questions about the extent to which roadways are roadworthy were raised as a core contributor to the underlying issue: municipal support. Capacity at local government level is an essential part of managing learner transport contracts. Without accounting for the system wide factors which influence the quality of service, safety, vehicle operating and driver retention costs there is limited room for truly enabling suitable transportation services. It goes without saying that there was much more to learn from this session, which I can not draft here, but it is a profoundly exciting effort for the future of the learner transport industry.

Areas of interest for researchers, practitioners and businesses

In a panel discussion with our MEC for Transport, Deputy Director General for Basic Education and a representative from the Transport Education and Training Authority a few of my comments included key themes, some for research and others for businesses.

Value chain opportunities. While learner transportation safety and operations are important, the access and mobility environment for the education sector also involves a logistics and distribution opportunity. On one hand this may involve the manufacturing and distribution teaching and learning materials, and the logistics underpinning education facility construction and maintenance. Both of which lack deep policy interventions, and may challenge the integrity and sustainability of offering quality education. It is of particular importance to involve small-medium enterprises in this regard through incentives and other regulatory interventions.

Bus operations and vehicle design. Consider the operational characteristics of bus vehicles or scholar transport vehicles for regional operations in rural, peri-urban and dynamic areas with difficult topographies. While the focus is on driver and learner behaviour, one must ask if the dynamics are only inherent in the quality of the technology being used (i.e. seatbelts, commuter entertainment, and other learner specific vehicle dimensions).

Curriculum reform. The long-term sustainability of the learner transport safety strategy depends on ensuring that it is part of the life-orientation curriculum. Every school must have some kind of scholar patrol, or similar type of approach to blending road safety with leadership development in learners.

School precinct design. The manner in which school precincts are designed is not conducive for learner mobility— whether for private cars, minibus taxis or large scholar transport buses. Ward Committees need to be involved in the scholar precinct management programmes. The culture of road safety needs to be supplemented by infrastructure (i.e. shelters, amenities and abolition facilities).


[1] Link to the submission to the Competition Commission on this issue: http://www.compcom.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/2018_MOKWENA_NWU_COMPCOM.pdf

[2] Work about this issue was presented at the Southern African Transport Conference: https://repository.up.ac.za/handle/2263/57952

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