Right decision today could save lives tomorrow

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

This much we know. The conversation about whether wooden buses are still road worthy given this country’s changing dynamics in terms of road usage is one that needs to happen now. 

And it cannot remain just a conversation. 

We have lost enough lives during incidents involving wooden buses that now is the time relevant authorities really need to make a decision and stick with it. 

They have got to make up their mind if they should continue to use or ban them. 

But the decision-making shouldn’t stop there. There is a whole lot more that needs to be done, including policies to ensure the men and women whom we entrust the lives of members of the public to are road worthy themselves.

If sailors and pilots need to pass so many stringent exams to be able to operate commercial transportation, why do we treat bus drivers differently? 

On a daily basis, they carry just as many people. Which means they are just as important since lives are in their hands.

Now on Saturday the bus which crashed at Puipa’a carried far more people than it should have. Fourty six passengers on a bus that should only be carrying 33 people is crazy. 

That many people whose lives were dependent on a driver who seemed more interested in his playlist than keeping his eyes on the road is a deadly combination. Of course there were other factors including the vehicle that suddenly did a u-turn in front of the bus. But if the bus wasn’t speeding, a lot of headaches could have been avoided.

Alas we can only wish we could wind back the clock.

You see, one life lost is one too many. Which means the idea that three people were instantly killed last Saturday and many more continue to suffer at the hospital has become one of our worst recent memories.

It is more than enough evidence that enough is enough when it comes to reckless bus drivers and the types of buses the Government allows on the road. How many more people need to die for the Government to wake up? 

This madness needs to stop. Now.

The good news is that the Land Transport Authority Chief Executive Officer, Leasi John Galuvao, is aware that something needs to be done. And phasing out the wooden buses is one of them

 “Back in the year 2000 the government moved to phase out the wooden buses. Even before that I was told the government in previous years wanted to phase out the wooden buses,” he said. 

So why wasn’t it done then?

“At the time, those ready-made buses that were brought in were 12 years old as those were the only buses the bus owners could afford. And most of these buses were run down,” he said.

Besides, bus owners appealed to the government to give them a chance to prove that the wooden buses were safe.

“They proposed that they would change the wooden frame to a metal frame to strengthen the foundation of the bus. There was also that mindset the aiga buses are one of Samoa’s iconic transportation means that attracts tourists.

 “That’s when the government opted to change its policy and allowed the bus owners to continue with the wooden buses, but with strict conditions.”

Obviously it is not working. The crash last week was not the only incident. Every year, bus crashes kill innocent people. What’s even more alarming is the way these wooden bus fail in every way to ensure safety when they crash. 

And there is a very reasonable explanation for this.

According to Leasi, the flat deck trucks that are converted into wooden buses were never meant to be buses.

“That is because the flat decks are high, the center of gravity is high and the bus can easily flip over,” he said. “If you look at ready-made buses, from overseas, they are low, given that the bulk of the weight can be carried with the low foundation of the bus.” 

“The higher the center of gravity is the high chances that anything can tilt the bus over.”

Which is precisely what we have been seeing. With most serious crashes involving these wooden buses, the vehicle always end up being totally smashed. Which goes to prove Leasi’s point.

The question is if Leasi and the L.T.A. knew this fact a long time ago, why was something not done then? 

It is too late to reverse what happened last weekend – and many other incidents before that - but the right decision today could save a life – or lives – tomorrow.

That’s what we think anyway. What about you? Write and share your thoughts with us!

Have a safe Friday Samoa, God bless!

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