Let’s link our upcoming elections with the recent Brexit decision, and also bring public transport into the equation ...
By the time we read this, many South Africans will have voted, hoping that their party of choice is going to raise their quality of life. Sadly, when it comes to public transport, no matter where they put their cross, they can look forward to a rough time.
In the United Kingdom (UK), most comment has been critical of the country’s decision to leave the European Union (EU). One local academic, Anthony Butler, of the University of Cape Town, puts it this way: “The political fallout in the UK has dire implications ... Brexit followed a campaign in which the ‘leave’ camp peddled blatant untruths. Such dishonesty flourished in a culture of popular ignorance ...”
Public transport didn’t feature in either the Brexit, or South African elections, but it is one of the issues in life that is clouded by “popular ignorance”. This leads to apathetic communities and opens the way for questionable transport practices to flourish.
In South Africa, think of e-tolls, South African Airways, ongoing minibus-taxi problems, the oversized Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) locomotives, underperforming projects like bus rapid transit (BRT) and the Gautrain, as well as chronic congestion on many of our roads. All of this is hurting the economy to the tune of many billions of rand.
Let’s take a quick look around the country. Starting in DA-run Cape Town, we have Cosatu’s Tony Ehrenreich calling for yet another strike to demand improved rail and bus services there. According to him “the train services are still poor and MyCiti buses cater mainly for the affluent areas”.
He is right – the Cape Town municipality has a poor record in public transport. For well over 100 years, it stood back and allowed private operators to run its bus service; naïvely thinking that the service ran at “no cost to the ratepayer”.
Now the council is trying to correct the resulting mess by pouring billions into a lopsided and expensive BRT service. It should rather have started long ago to pay the existing operator to simply jack up its services, at a much lower cost than BRT.
Cosatu has a point, but why does it always only pick on Cape Town? What about the big ANC-run cities in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, where conditions are no better? Of course we know the answer to that one. Cosatu has failed workers all over South Africa, due to its political bias and its inability to stand up for the transport needs of workers across the whole country.
Moving on to KwaZulu-Natal, the Durban municipality is pumping billions into pouring concrete all over the city in the name of its Go!Durban scheme. Like Cape Town, it has made no serious attempt to improve the service that is already there. It could be carrying thousands more passengers every day at a more modest extra cost, simply by reorganising its existing buses. However, given its poor bus record over the past 20 years, we should expect nothing from Durban anytime soon.
As for Gauteng, remember that it has no public transport plan. That doesn’t bother the bigwigs of Gauteng who, at yet another tedious “summit” on public transport, recently ratified a public transport authority.
“We will launch a single transport authority soon, with a single ticket for all transport modes in the province,” said premier Makhura. That’s nothing new – in March 2015 this column pointed out that Gauteng already had an “authority”, which was shut down in 2008. (I suspect that this was done partly to allow the Gautrain to proceed unhindered and unchallenged).
Then Makhura added: “We want the taxi industry to be involved in the expansion of the Gautrain.” Rather try mixing oil and water, sir.
An EFF spokesperson was quick to respond to him, saying: “You can hardly develop and formalise the taxi industry – you can’t even get them to a boardroom – so I wonder how you are going to achieve (a transport authority).”
To underline how rudderless Gauteng is, a few days later, transport MEC, Ismail Vadi, was calling on church leaders to help out with the Mall of Africa taxi debacle. Why not also call on sangomas to help bring down Gautrain’s loss of R70 a passenger?
This column has consistently emphasised the role that ordinary buses should be playing throughout South Africa. There is no need for fancy BRT and rail schemes.
One of the worst examples of this is the City of Johannesburg where the bus service has crumbled from 1 014 daily trips in 2007, to 903 in 2014 and now (mid-2016) sits at a miserable 789 trips. This is the same city that trumpets its “corridors of freedom”.
Unfortunately the bus industry has left the country – our very own BUXIT!
Shame on us.
Vaughan Mostert lectured on public transport issues at the University of Johannesburg for nearly thirty years. 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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