Search for transport answers

A province-wide solution is needed to solve the increasing issue of congestion that goes beyond convincing people to use public transport. An integrated system using a single card fare and backed up by real-time information, managed by a Gauteng Transport Authority may be the answer.

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MEC Vadi believes and integrated province wide public transport is the future of mobility in the province. (Image: Gauteng Roads and Transport)

Sulaiman Philip

Gauteng MEC for roads and transport Dr Ismail Vadi tells a story about a young woman he met in central Johannesburg who has taken to riding a bicycle through the city to and from work every day.

To change the belief that it was dangerous to ride a bicycle in Johannesburg, this young woman had to get on her bike and ride, Vadi said, speaking at the Johannesburg leg of the Cycling Indaba, which took place on 11-12 October.

“To get people out of their cars and using the public transport infrastructure we need to change the culture. We have got to grow the culture. People like this young woman are outliers, people who know the infrastructure exists and are showing others that the city’s public transport infrastructure is safe to use.”

Changing the mind-set of Gauteng’s millions of car users is a challenge the MEC is relishing as he begins setting up the Gauteng Transport Authority. “There is a bigger challenge. In the last 10 years we’ve built the Gautrain, we’ve rolled out two phases of the BRT and yet car ridership has increased. It could mean that people have not listened to our message. But I think it’s a function of in-migration. In the last 10 years Gauteng’s population has doubled.”

South Africans spend the equivalent of 10 working days sitting in traffic on congested roads annually. In the space taken up by one person in a car, six people can travel by bike or 4.5 by bus. “So even though the public transport infrastructure has been rolled out, not on the scale we desire of course. It’s not seamless and it does not have a provincial footprint, but our population has increased so of course our car ridership has increased.”

Vadi believes that investment in an integrated transport system is the solution to a future of gridlock. A system that seamlessly integrated different transport nodes would optimise space, move larger numbers of people more effectively. To that end he has begun to set up the Gauteng Transport Authority.

This investment in time and money on an integrated transport system between bus, train and metro will also help the province to become more socio-economically inclusive. Vadi believes that economic mobility matters and we must now build transport infrastructure that shows marginalised communities that they are part of the fabric of the economic engine that is the province.

The challenge to keep the province moving has become more difficult as the province has become wealthier. Until we can change the mindset of citizens, traffic will slow to a crawl. Cities that embrace pubic transport and cycling are truly democratic. A city where a R800 bicycle has as much right to space on the road as a car worth R800 000 is truly equal. A progressive community is one where the rich are as comfortable using public transport as the poor.

The road to a better transport system

There are just over 11 million vehicles on the roads in South Africa. Gauteng, the smallest province, is home to 4.6 million of those vehicles. Fly over Gauteng and you will see a province on the move. Trains and taxis, cars and bicycles flow like blood through a circulatory system.

This desire and need for mobility has made large metros noisy, congested and prone to smog. Safe, clean and affordable public transport is Gauteng’s future if MEC Vadi gets his wish. For the poor it is the system that allows them to get to work, improves access to health care, education and recreation.

“In-migration (to Gauteng) is an ongoing conundrum. It is putting pressure on our schooling system, our health system. All the systems that are there to support communities and develop communities, including our transport system. How are we going to build ourselves out of this? We don’t have the road reserves.”

For Gauteng to remain the economic engine of South Africa, the province needs to plan and build a better, more integrated public transport system that covers the entire province. Vadi envisages a system that allows Gautengers to get on a train in Rust de Winter and get off a bus in Vaal Oewer, using one affordable fare card that allows you to transfer from one mode of transport that is safe, on time and that follows a set schedule, to another.

In his 2015 departmental budget speech he argued that the province, with the help of Metrorail, needed to improve and upgrade the passenger rail system to form the foundation of an integrated mass transit system.

With one million daily riders, it was the backbone of the province’s transformation, modernisation and re-industrialisation agenda. “Roads and public transport link and integrate whole communities and facilitate the seamless movement of people, goods and services. It also helps us to re-fashion geography and spatially reconfigure the Gauteng City Region along the five development corridors identified by the provincial government.”

Gauteng Transport Authority

He went on to explain that Gauteng had to plan for a future that could not be seen yet. As Gauteng grows, it is the smallest province but has the largest population, transport infrastructure will become strained and more important.

“…growth should be premised on an infrastructure-led strategy, which includes making substantial investments in roads and public transport. Our investments in transport infrastructure will contribute to economic growth and development of our province, particularly at a time when the global and local economy are experiencing a downturn.”

For the provincial government, maintaining and improving road infrastructure is just one aspect of the 25-Year Integrated Transport Masterplan. Included in the vision and planning is the provision of reliable, affordable and safe public transport. “Our vision is to evolve an integrated and reliable public transport system for the Gauteng City Region that operates as a single, functional transport area, where the users of the system are unmindful of municipal and provincial boundaries.”

In 2014, Gauteng Premier David Makhura joined the executive mayors of all Gauteng municipalities in signing a Declaration of Intent to establish a Gauteng Transport Authority. This new public utility will transform the way the province’s public transport systems are managed, organised and co-ordinated.

“…a Gauteng Transport Authority will give us optimal leverage of our limited human and fiscal resources; promote better integration and co-ordination of dispersed public transport related activities; allow for greater efficiencies in contracting transport services; and improve on transport planning.”

At the Gauteng e-Commerce ICT Summit in November 2015, MEC Vadi told CNBC Africa that the need to integrate all mass transit systems was becoming critical. A key part of that planned integration was to be a single, one card scheme that worked across the entire system.

Challenges

On the New York City Transit system one card allows you to change between the bus and subway to get to your destination. The London Oyster card – almost R5 000 a month – allows you to use any of the city’s public transport systems. In the Estonian capital of Tallinn, residents enjoy almost free public transport – it costs R31.50 for a monthly pass.

In these cities the different parts of the public transport systems are integrated. Bus routes mirror train, subway or tube routes. Train and bus schedules are synchronised to ensure a reasonable travel time from door to destination.

Well-designed, successful integrated public transport systems are economical, the trip is comfortable and, most importantly, considered safe. Before a new province-wide system can be birthed, planners need to consider how to integrate the operations of existing systems with new, and planned, infrastructure.

Globally, urban planners building truly integrated systems have learnt the value of providing real-time information to travellers. Real-time information about service schedules especially has helped to make adoption and continued use workable.

Vadi told CNBC Africa that his department was busy developing an app that would allow commuters to plan their whole trip across the province. The challenge was a lack of live information to make the system workable. “You need someone to manage the back office and to feed it with live information so that if you get off at any station, or you’re at a taxi rank, and you want to go from point A to point B, you should be able to map your route with an application. We have taken some steps in that direction, but I don’t think we are at the point we desire.”

Getting people out of their cars

Integrated and safe public transport eases the burden on residents’ wallets and, in theory, should get cars off city and provincial roads. However, as the city of Tallinn learnt, integration is just one aspect a city needs to get right.

Delft University’s Dr Oded Cats, of the department of transport and planning, found that transit ridership grew by 8%, but the length of a car journey went up by 31%. He concluded that there were more, not fewer cars on the roads. This, he deduced, was down to changing shopping and leisure habits and not limitations of the public transport system. “Making driving more expensive through parking fees and other taxes could be more effective at cutting back on traffic.”

This income could, should, be used to fund a province-wide mass transit system. To fund the system just through fares would make it unaffordable. Building infrastructure for and operating a public transit system is expensive; it becomes essential to look at additional revenues streams.

In Gauteng, as in other provinces, the multiplicity of owners is a challenge. While they do provide low cost service, competition results in – it is perception in part – low quality service. Taxi routes are also concentrated on profitable routes while non-profitable routes are poorly serviced. Taxi owners would need to be convinced that participation would benefit them, even if they are one node of a wider system.

Best practice across the globe is a transit system consisting of a mix of public and private operators. The government entity – the Gauteng Transport Authority – would be responsible for planning the network and setting operational standards. Private and municipal operators would provide contracted services.

Across Gauteng, as income levels have risen, car ownership has become a way to display status. Mass transit has come to be seen as the option of people who cannot afford their own cars. Changing this image of public transport is another big challenge. Cars are aspirational, a sign of independence and an indication of achievement. Vadi does not judge this, saying: “But our aspirational middle class has caused havoc on our roads. In the last 15 years how many young black women have you seen in their Polo, alone in the car driving very cautiously on the highway? But it’s their pride.”

This challenge goes hand-in-hand with a transport system that is not developed enough to cover all areas. He understands these challenges and is trying to find solutions. “We are now advocating car sharing schemes because it’s another way to deal with and manage the congestion.

“When we had this very unfortunate collapse of the bridge at Grayston, for three of four days the road was closed. Over those three days we had 5 000 new passengers per day on the Gautrain. Suddenly people realised that this worked. It was actually very nice to be on the Gautrain. And some of those people have stayed on as passengers. Why, they wondered, did they spend their days in stop go stop go traffic. They discovered the train worked. They had never bothered to try it. They just assumed there was no public transport.”

Demographers project that Gauteng’s population will be 18.6 million by 2037. This means more cars on the roads unless the province builds an integrated public transport system, and commuters use it. If leaders do nothing, “you will be sitting in your posh BMW in peak hours in Gauteng travelling slower than a horse and cart”.

Speaking alongside Vadi was Marissa Gerards, the Dutch ambassador to South Africa and host of the Cycling Indaba. She explained that the Dutch mass transit system grew out of a demand from the people rather than government planning.

To accommodate the growing number of cars on the roads in the 1960s and 1970s, Netherlands began building new roads, often through the heart of cities and destroying communities in the process. “It was the people who wanted to save the cities so the government was forced to build bike lanes, provide public transport and protect the inner cities. I am stuck in the traffic jam between Pretoria and Johannesburg so often. If the Gautrain had good connections with other modes of transport it would be perfect. That’s the solution the Netherlands looked for.”

The province will be putting a lot more effort into building an integrated public transport system over the next few years. In the three largest municipalities’ bus rapid transit systems are being re-vitalised. Over the next three years Metrorail’s new trains and a modernised signal system will be operating. Construction on new routes for the Gautrain will begin. “But these things take time. We are playing catch, but in the next five or 10 years you will begin to see changes.”

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