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Please, enough eco-babble!

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Please, enough eco-babble!This month, this column writes itself. Those responsible for October Transport Month (OTM) usually churn out enough nonsense to fill two columns, leaving me with the problem of what to leave out.

I want to focus on Gauteng, where there was one significant difference between 2014 and 2015. Usually the national and provincial Departments of Transport drive the OTM process.

This year, the province played a far more subdued role, leaving it to the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) to trumpet its “commitment” to better public transport through its sponsorship of the EcoMobility Festival (EMF).

My theory is that the Gauteng government, embarrassed by the continuing absence of Annexure F from the website of its 25-year plan, decided to lie low and let the CoJ go through the motions.

Sadly, the skeletons in the CoJ’s cupboard are just as noisy as those of the province. Festivals such as these have become a case study in Hypocrisy 101. I remain baffled at the ability of government (at all three levels) to stubbornly continue to hide its failure to provide a decent public transport service by organising, or supporting, these bogus events.

The EMF website lists a number of “sponsors” and “partners”; most of them with flowery names based on eco-this, green-that or mobility-the-other. They even include a university or two.

I suspect that some of these hangers-on, whether local or overseas-based, are little more than fronts; first for the oil, road construction and motor lobby, and second, for the banks, which earn a big slice of their income from financing private motor vehicles.

I would call them “shelf” organisations. They merely provide a veneer of eco-friendliness to a process, which is actually doing nothing to improve public transport in South Africa.

Here is an example: In the Sunday Times of October 11, we were told that the CoJ contributed R160 million to the EMF. Three days before that, in a cringe-worthy advertorial placed in Business Day by one of the “partners”, we read “now it is Johannesburg’s turn to demonstrate leadership in the global efforts … towards eco-mobility.

“During the Festival, leaders in urban government, experts, thought leaders and citizens will meet and share success stories, discuss case studies, and propose solutions. Technical papers will be presented and discussions will focus on the latest developments in the fields of transport …

“At the conclusion, a ‘Declaration on Low-Carbon Urban Transport’ will be signed by delegates, international organisations and experts in transport and climate-change issues and then presented to the UN Climate Summit – COP21 – in Paris in December.”

No mention of integrating Metrobus and BRT, starting a through-ticket system, reorganising the route pattern, or fixing the timetable – only a load of waffle. After Paris, the circus moves to Quito, Ecuador, in 2016 – at least the delegates, experts and thought leaders will see some trolleybuses there!  

It remains to be seen how long it will take South Africa to wake up to all this fooling around.

Back in 2007, one of the provincial OTM events was an arts competition. Kids were asked to draw a picture with a transport theme. First prize was a Sony PlayStation, or something like that.

Instead, kids should be required to make as many trips on public transport as possible, write an essay about their experiences, and make suggestions for improvements.

First prize should be one year of free travel on Putco. Second prize could be ten years of free travel on Sundays on Johannesburg’s Metrobus. (For those who don’t get the joke, Metrobus does not operate on Sundays!)

As an aside, the City of Ekurhuleni (which has BRT pretensions and was also represented at the Festival) shuts down its Boksburg bus depot at 16:00 every afternoon, just in time for the 22 buses based there to avoid the evening rush! Think of all the carbon emissions they save!

Finally, to round off our case study, let’s quote Mark Smyth, Motoring Editor of Business Day. Having attended the EMF, he reports (October 13): “Astonishingly, parked in a new cycle lane was the official car of Johannesburg Metro MMC for Transport, Christine Walters”.

I’ll leave it to you to speculate on whether things will improve in 2016. We can but hope …

 


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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