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18/06/2016

Brakes on driving schools ... or on all learner drivers?

news24.co.za - The recent article in the People’s post dated 24 May 2016 titled “Brakes on Driving schools” reports several allegations made against driving schools operating at the Athlone Stadium parking area. All of which create the impression that these businesses have acted illegally and which effectively accuses them of "squatting" on City land.

The article quotes Yvette Tsolo the City’s head of facilities as stating that the driving schools have no formal agreement (to be there) with the City. It goes on to state that the fencing has been damaged by vehicles used by driving schools, including trucks and that trucks pose a weight bearing problem to the surface of the lot. It then invokes our need to protect the children who use it as a thoroughfare because the “various vehicles on the site could pose an immediate safety risk.”

Several of these statements need to be challenged quite directly. The impression created is that these driving schools are businesses that operate outside of the law. This, to my layman’s thinking would render them criminal. If the City asserts that these schools have acted illegally in any way then it begs answering why nothing has been done in the way of prosecution of these “offenders”? What is the illegal action or behaviour these schools are guilty of? What laws have been broken? Importantly, what evidence is there to support this allegation?

Every vehicle driver passing the Stadium is able to access the parking area without restriction or access control of any kind as has been the case since the stadium was first constructed. Notwithstanding the fact that fences have been damaged and clearly so by vehicles, I would challenge the City to prove that any damage caused to its recently (2013) erected fencing was in fact caused by vehicles of driving schools “including trucks”.

Surely if this statement were true in any respect and the City was aware of the culprit being a formal business I would like to think that in the interest of good governance and as custodian of public property, it would have instituted proceedings against that culprit to recover the cost of repairs.

If it has such proof then let it provide it and let it recover the costs of such damage from the culprit/s responsible for such damage and also charge the officials in charge at the stadium who are clearly in dereliction of their duty to protect the public property/strategic asset in their custody.

If it has no such proof then its officials should unconditionally apologise to all the schools accused from as public a platform as the one from which they chose to utter these as yet unsubstantiated remarks.

Claiming that unladen trucks pose a threat to the surface of the parking lot again evokes a sense of concern but more so as an indictment of the City than of the driving schools. How is it possible that the City could approve the construction of a parking area, initially intended to be part of a Soccer World Cup venue and not insist that it could bear the weight of heavy vehicles like buses, which I can only imagine would be fully laden.

Are we now really to believe that heavy vehicles like buses could cause the stadium parking area to collapse and if so, what does that say about the provision of substandard facilities to the people of Athlone? Normally substantially heavily overloaded trucks have been known to cause subsidence, but empty trucks carrying only a learner and instructor? Really?

There are always safety concerns when people learn to drive. This risk is compounded by parents who allow their children to run in the streets unsupervised. It is compounded by a complete lack of adequate traffic law enforcement and it will be further compounded by forcing learners to get behind the wheel for the very first time on actual roads with other traffic. Learner drivers, I would argue pose less of a risk on a parking area than they would on a normal road so how exactly does this decision make the area safer?

Given the motivation for the decision provided by your article and attributed to Ms Yvette Tsolo of the City, I have to suspect that these “reasons”, generalizations and assumptions mask some ulterior motive behind this administrative action by public officials.

While dealing with all these speculative comments from the City, lets speculate a little of our own. What if they want to establish a flea market there? or What if they have been offered R100k per month to put an advertising tower there? What if they are quite prepared to rip up the parking area completely to build it? What if they need a reason to require the tar to be lifted? But hey let’s not get ahead of ourselves just because their stated reasons don’t add up or lack substance.

For now every driving school blanket banned and accused of illegal activities without a shred of evidence being provided of such wrongdoing on their part should simply seek to have the City officials concerned provide each of them with reasons for this administrative action (as it relates to their specific businesses and not a generalization) which compromises their livelihood. Section 5 of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act allows for this and also requires the administrator concerned to respond..

There are also remedies available to every school operating at the stadium parking area whose reputations have been drawn into disrepute by the libellous comments and unsubstantiated utterances about their alleged unlawful behaviour.

While we could get into Mr Montanus’ comments it is appreciated that holding a City tender may not always allow one the freedom to state one’s mind. Interestingly he did mention that there have been no complaints about the driving schools in the “more than five years” he has operated in the area. Really? What about the danger alleged by the City?

I therefore cannot help but ask…does the City Management actually know the basic laws applicable to open space whether owned privately or publicly? It certainly appears that they do not and so it needs to be explained so that the innocent businessmen who have been labelled as criminals by their mere presence on the parking area do not have their reputations further damaged by ill-informed and poorly chosen remarks by those who should know better.

The stadium until 2013 had no fence around any of its parking areas. As a consequence of this failure to fence the area and restrict access to the parking area by the general public, it fell squarely within the definition of “public road” as contemplated in the Road Traffic Ordinance 21/1966 the Road Traffic Act 29/1989 and also its successor in law, the National Road Traffic Act 93/1996.

The definition reads

“ public road" means any road, street or thoroughfare or any other place (whether a thoroughfare or not) which is commonly used by the public or any section thereof or to which the public or any section thereof has a right of access, and includes -

a)


the verge of any such road, street or thoroughfare,

b)


any bridge, ferry or drift traversed by any such road, street or thoroughfare; and

c)


any other work or object forming part of or connected with or belonging to such road, street or thoroughfare;

This parking area clearly falls squarely within this definition of “public road” because it was “commonly used by the public” and as such is and always has been an area that a learner driver can legally use under the authority of his/her learner’s licence.

Note that as “Public Road” the learners licence allows the use of a vehicle there and does not require any further permission or “formal agreement” from the City. Since the recent erection of the fence around the Southern Parking area in 2013 (erected around the ongoing activities of learner drivers I might add) the City has continued to allow free access to the parking area to everyone, reinforcing the fact that the parking area is indeed public space falling within the definition of public road.

The Northern parking area along which it is alleged that “various vehicles” could pose an immediate safety risk has oddly not changed that much since the new grandstand was erected several years ago, yet Stadium management elected to fence the Southern Parking area and not this Northern area where they claim to fear this “imminent danger” to school children.

One therefore has to ask….if there is clear and present danger then why no fencing anywhere on the Northern side. If such danger is imminent and immediate, then why no steps to immediately prevent injury?....Why no traffic officers there to safeguard the public or no hoarding to close it off? Why wait for the next financial year if the danger is now? Unless of course ...its not.

It has also to be asked what one would expect to find in a parking area? Vehicles being parked or school children? Surely the parking area was constructed for use by vehicles? If this is not so and vehicles driven there present such a safety hazard to children, then one has to wonder what actual thought and planning went into its placement on the part of City management? If it were to be argued that learner drivers are the danger then one has to ask if licensed drivers have not been known to crash into things..or each other.

Having stated the above I believe it entirely appropriate to remind the City that until they fence the entire Northern area and provide access control at all gates which will need to actually be closed daily and which will prohibit ALL sectors of the public from common use of the area, the area will continue to be public road and every person in possession of a learners licence will be legally entitled to its use as such

Interesting too is the fact that Notices posted around the stadium currently advise the reader that the area may not be used by learner drivers as from 1 June. The media report however appears to be directed at driving schools and seems to offer reasons why they should not be there. As a consequence it would be of interest to establish if the ban on driving schools because of “safety” is actually a prohibition on the use of this public facility by the entire community’s learner drivers whether with a driving school or not?. Why, one would wonder, should this community not have access to this area placed on their doorstep, between their houses and servicing their people and also paid for by public funds?

The report also claims that “driving schools operating in and around the Athlone Stadium parking lot” are affected."In and around" seems to imply a coming ban on the use of the actual roads around the stadium by learner drivers. Is the next step going to be signs going up denying trucks access to surface roads? Will Traffic Police already in short supply and barely visible now, also going to be expected to "protect" all roads from learner drivers when they can barely enforce laws to keep fully licensed drivers from killing themselves?

So, does the City plan to deny all learner drivers the use of public roads around the stadium as well? if so, on what grounds and with what legal authority do they plan to do so?

It therefore seems that whatever motivates the City to introduce this ban and destroy the livelihood of these small businesses it cannot (to thinking people) reasonably be the reasons offered to this reporter. So we wait with great anticipation to see the real reasons emerge in the coming months.



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011 672 3360
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