Last month we pointed to the mysterious disappearance of Appendix F from the website of the Gauteng 25-year transport plan. It was criticised in the March issue of this column, so I’d like to think that there is some connection!
Maybe we will still be given an official reason. In the meanwhile, its contents now have renewed relevance, given the events following the messy takeover of Putco by Autopax in Mamelodi during the first week of July.
The run-up to this latest crisis started a week earlier, on June 25, when Gautrans announced an increase in the Gautrain subsidy from R1 billion to R1,5 billion. (I hoped – in vain – that “1,5” was a misprint).
On the very same day, Putco – under contract to Gautrans – announced that it would withdraw services on loss-making routes in Gauteng. The company had asked for a nine-percent increase in subsidy, while the province offered only three to five percent.
So a 50-percent (R500 million) increase in the subsidy to the Shilowa Express seems to be in order, but when it comes to the bus subsidy, there are “financial constraints”. The minibus-taxi industry then jumped onto the merry-go-round, saying: “What about us – we get nothing.” The taxi spokesman said that the situation was “sickening”. This is too true.
Sadly, events then followed their predictable course – a shoot-out, injuries, smashed bus windows, police escorts and public meetings – this time addressed by the Gauteng Premier, David Makhura. Even the national Minister of Transport, Dupio Peters, popped up on television.
What does Appendix F have to do with this? Let’s start at page 23: “The turnaround strategy will have to start with government”. Indeed it will, but we seem to be dealing with a government which (at all three levels) seems unable, and/or unwilling, to read its own policy documents.
Giving more money to the Gautrain, while other modes are strangled, is probably unconstitutional. (Stop press … accounting firm KPMG has now been roped in to support the Gautrain – watch this space.)
Two things amaze me: first, how commuters and voters put up with the distortions in fares and service levels throughout the country, and second, the failure of opposition parties to exploit the wretched conditions in which commuters have to travel.
Actually, even though the DA-run Western Cape is getting it right with Go!George, it’s getting it wrong with Atlantis and Dunoon in Cape Town, where a bus rapid transit (BRT) scheme has been pushed through right next to a virtually unused railway line.
This column has consistently called for existing assets to be reorganised first – and only then to go for new construction.
The most significant part of Appendix F is the list of 164 bus routes that are envisaged to cover Gauteng. They are coded red, blue and green, each representing a descending level of service. Red routes are BRT routes – all 738 km of them, so stand by for some road works coming to a suburb near you. They will operate at one-minute intervals during the peak time.
Blue routes will operate every two minutes and will use dedicated curb-side lanes. Green routes will run every three minutes and will run in normal traffic. All routes will have minimum 20-minute services at off-peak times and will run for 18-hours a day.
So far, so good … now for the problems. None of the routes have been described in terms of where they actually go, so we are left to guess how they link with each other, at which shopping centres they call, at which stations they will connect with trains, and so on. They require 8 059 buses, costing R24 billion, plus “street furniture” for an extra R18 billion.
I don’t think much of these routes, of which the longest is “Green 78” at 63 km, followed by “Red 1” at 61 km. We need at least four routes between Soweto and Pretoria alone, and 63 km won’t get us there. If Appendix F gets the flagship routes wrong, how much hope is there for the others?
Then we come to shorter routes, such as “Red 6” at 2,7 km. That one has me scratching my head! It doesn’t make sense to have a full-blown BRT route, carrying 15 000 people a day, requiring every passenger to change to another route after having travelled only 2,7 km. Rather combine it with another BRT route, thereby reducing, if not completely avoiding, the need for transfers.
If we want to avoid future scenarios such as the one in Mamelodi, we can start right now with a vastly watered-down version of Appendix F. Gautrans already has 3 000 buses under contract – it can start to reschedule and redeploy them on more sensible routes, thereby using existing resources to maximum effect.
Sadly, that isn’t happening. The government – central, provincial and municipal – is failing us. Constitutional Court, anyone?
Vaughan Mostert developed a love for public transport early in life, which led to a lifelong academic interest in the subject. He recently retired as a senior lecturer from the Department of Transport and Supply Chain Management at the University of Johannesburg. Through Hopping Off, Mostert leaves readers with some parting food for thought as he continues his push for change in the local public transport industry.
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