Province to transform public transport

Ismail Vadi. (Johann Barnad)

Ismail Vadi. (Johann Barnad)

For the most part, public transport is a misnomer in South Africa, with breakdowns, inefficiencies and disputes often leaving commuters fuming.

The Gauteng Department of Roads and Transport under MEC Ismail Vadi has acknowledged the challenges commuters face every day and has started to produce a master plan for the province.

The process kicked off in May last year when the MEC appointed a panel of experts to develop a transformative 25-year Integrated Transport Master Plan, which is slated to be finalised by June 2013.

"We can take an ostrich approach and let the next government or succeeding generations decide how to deal with an ailing transport system that is not geared toward serving the needs of the majority of our people, or we could address the future now," Vadi said on Monday this week at a consultative forum in Pretoria to launch the five-year Gauteng transport interim implementation plan (GTiP5).

This five-year plan is something of a placeholder for the longer-term plan and is focused on existing infrastructure and projects that can start delivering short-term results.

"The aim is to give shock treatment to the transportation system in the region," Vadi told the gathering of public-sector stakeholders invited to the launch of the discussion document. The inclusion of all players - from municipal transport departments, commuter and taxi associations, unions and other provincial departments - is central to the vision of a truly integrated system.

Unified transport system

Proposals in the document that would help realise a unified transport system include the establishment of a Gauteng Transport Authority and a single ticketing system, which will both require significant changes to the structure of the existing system.

Vadi, however, is unperturbed by these challenges, saying that "once you have the political will, and you bring the technical competence and marshal the funding, you can do it". He does realise "that this will take some doing" and has called on all stakeholders to provide their input and comment to the document in order to be fully inclusive.

There is a quiet confidence about Vadi and his team, largely on the basis of the strong technical team that has been gathered to provide input into the plan.
Given that this task team is headed by Gautrain supremo Jack van der Merwe and supported by his new head of department Mavela Dlamini, this confidence is understandable. Not only did he successfully lead the establishment of the Gautrain, but his experience reaches back to the 1970s when the original transportation plan was developed for what was then the PWV area.

The task team gathered under his authority comprises academic and independent transport experts as well as representatives from Sanral, Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), Cosatu, plus provincial agencies and government departments including BlueIQ, and finance.

One of the key guiding principles of the plan is the focus on public transport and all its myriad elements. This goes beyond inner-city transport and congestion issues, and encompasses not only outlying areas but all of the economic and transport corridors feeding into the province.

Travel demand
"Gauteng must operate as one economic unit and compete nationally and internationally as a single unit. If the plan we develop is only for transport, we have failed,"

Van der Merwe told the forum.

To achieve this province-wide focus, the proposed five-year plan has been parcelled into 11 key focus areas that it is believed can be implemented within this time frame. (See pg2 for a summary of these focus areas).

This aerial view of the way forward includes proposals on the establishment of a provincial transport authority, a public transport information centre, a single ticketing system, best use of existing public transport infrastructure and systems - encompassing rail, bus and minibus taxis - and the management of travel demand and congestion.

This extends to major freight nodes in the province, which are seen as a key to the province's economic development, but could have serious road usage implications if not planned and integrated properly.

The University of Pretoria's Dr Bridget Ssamula presented the report's spatial findings and proposals. This relates to the effective use of land and transport corridors with the view to promoting economic, social, institutional and physical integration.

Spatial distortions
"This speaks to the work being done in the National Planning Commission … and should be focused on people, not places," she said. "To overcome the spatial distortions of apartheid, future settlement and economic development should be channeled into activity corridors."

By taking a look at the current and projected population and economic growth in and around Gauteng, the task team has developed a transport "hierarchy" for the various corridors. The hierarchy determines the type of services required. The idea is to enable seamless travel across transport modes in a manner that has become the norm in major cities across the globe.

Both the department and the technical team realise that achieving this ideal is anything but easy and will require significant buy-in and an open and co-operative approach, especially relinquishing of traditional powers and influence by pretty much all involved, the meeting heard.

The proposed solution to this potential hurdle is to create a transport authority for Gauteng to plan, co-ordinate and integrate transport service delivery across the province.

Both Vadi and Van der Merwe acknowledge that while this is a necessary mechanism, it does face substantial hurdles.

"Unless there is significant buy-in, particularly from the municipalities, this authority will fail," said Vadi. "So it needs trust, a secure legal framework and this document sets out three possible options to consider. We need to take a policy decision that we need a transport authority. Its form, structure and functions are things we need to talk about so that we have complete consensus."

Better co-ordination
The technical team has put forward three potential models for this authority, ranging from a slightly adapted but non-centralised function through to completely centralised model in which all public transport functions in the province fall within the authority's ambit.

The middle of the road (and preferred) proposal also does not centralise public transport planning, but does propose better co-ordination of such planning and implementation. Under this option, the body would have regulatory, funding, contracting and monitoring responsibility of the public transport sector.

Van der Merwe added that despite the need for this body to have legal legitimacy, it would require out-of-the-box thinking to drive it forward within the timeframe envisaged.

"The problem we have is a fragmented and uncoordinated transport delivery system that has resulted in the creation of silos. We have a unique characteristic in Gauteng [because] we have three metropolitan areas that don't operate as a single entity when it comes to transport infrastructure and services.

While this may be one of the tougher hurdles to overcome, it certainly is central to the roads and transport department's plans as it would enable other ambitious initiatives such as the "One Province, One Ticket" proposal and a central information gateway.

It goes without saying that funding of this redeveloped transport system will remain a talking point right through, and after, the plan has been implemented.

Implementation
Vadi is the first to admit that his department will have to fight for the resources to implement the plans, but is confident it can be achieved.

The technical report considers various funding models that would enable implementation on the scale envisaged. These proposals range from drawing on government grants, restructuring the public transport subsidy model, through to attracting private sector investment, public-private partnerships and user-pays type models.

No single or clear way forward is suggested in the document, with the merits and mechanisms of the various options covered in four pages of the 300+ page report. The lack of detail would be partly due to the need to first compile the public comments before moving forward with a concrete plan.

Vadi was adamant that he would be driving the process forward and that senior executives in his department were due for a wake-up call: "I can tell you now, it is not going to be business as usual," he said.

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