On a road to nowhere

The Gauteng government’s public transport summit, convened by its Transport Minister Ignatius Jacobs this week, was a crude bluff. In the context of failed taxi recapitalisation, a bungled car-pool-lane experiment, a Gautrain project plagued with glitches and, most importantly, heightened debate about the necessity for public transport, the summit missed the opportunity to grapple with the mobility needs of Gauteng citizens.

For the SACP-led Gauteng Action Committee for Public Transport, our million-signature campaign for public transport brought us face to face with the reality of a non-existent public transport system.
Informed by the frustrations of commuters and comparative international research, we were ready to talk.

However, three hours into the summit it was clear public transport policy was not the priority. Instead, debate morphed into project management.

Three speakers in a row, including the minister, framed a transport policy discussion that boiled down to the Gautrain project and the public-transport needs of tourists for 2010.

The minister also exposed the extent to which he was out of touch with citizens when he admitted: “If it was not for the 2010 World Cup the premier would have redefined my contract and Jack van der Merwe would be on holiday on an island.” In effect communicating that citizens’ public transport needs are not a priority unless they are linked to grandiose national projects.

Embedding public transport planning and investment into 2010 might accelerate the realisation of integrated public transport, but it risks ending with the World Cup.

To add insult to injury, the minister did not honour his commitment to us regarding a space in the main programme session to communicate a view from below. Instead, sycophantic bureaucrats tried to force us to accept that public transport issues are best left to technical people; “international experts” know best what we need.

They also felt it was in our interests to be herded into thematically structured commissions that were skewed to achieve pre-planned outcomes.

We clearly have a long way to go before we achieve a “democratic developmental state” that takes the interests of citizens seriously.

We walked out. We did not hand over our 200 000 signatures and our submission. Neither did we explain that we are decentralising our campaign to a local government level because public transport planning needs to become the backbone for urban and development planning.

In the end, this experience not only revealed the lack of commitment to public transportation, but also the extent to which we are beholden to technocrats.

Vishwas Satgar is Gauteng SACP secretary and convenes the Gauteng Action Committee for Public Transport

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